ONTD Political

Happiest People On Planet Live In Latin America, Gallup Poll Suggests

10:14 am - 12/24/2012
Happiest People On Planet Live In Latin America, Gallup Poll Suggests

MEXICO CITY -- The world's happiest people aren't in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren't in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn't make the top 10.

A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.

"In Guatemala, it's a culture of friendly people who are always smiling," said Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor. "Despite all the problems that we're facing, we're surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all."

Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.

In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.

Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.

It's a paradox with serious implications for a relatively new and controversial field called happiness economics that seeks to improve government performance by adding people's perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a national well-being program in 2010 as part of a pledge to improve Britons' lives in the wake of the global recession. A household survey sent to 200,000 Britons asks questions like "How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?"

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world's most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.

Some experts say that's a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.

"My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases," said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank

"What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way," said Lora, a native of Colombia, the 11th most-positive country.

For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. For others at the bottom, Armenia at the second lowest spot, Georgia and Lithuania, misery is something a little more ephemeral.

"Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here," said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. "Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation's history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful."

The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook. Latin America's biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list.

Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures' overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn't undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.

"Those expressions are a reality, and that's exactly what we're trying to quantify," he said. "I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries."

Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.

Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.

Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but "happy about my family."

"Overall, I'm happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world," he said. "We're Caribbean people, we're people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more."

Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren't looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.

"We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There's hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you're always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here," he said.

In Paraguay, tied with Panama as the most-positive country while doing far worse than Panama by objective measures, street vendor Maria Solis said tough economic conditions were no reason to despair.

"Life is short and there are no reasons to be sad because even if we were rich, there would still be problems," she said while selling herbs used for making tea. "We have to laugh at ourselves."


OP: I can't believe this. No. It's not for the reason you think. It's because the human bot fly is from around that area. No one could ever be happy with that ... hell-beast on the loose. I'm sure that, at one point, I could give you a better idea of where but I mentally blocked that out. If it gets warmer here and there's a chance they might come up north, then I'm thinking about moving to Europe.

Moving on from my neurosis, rock on Latin America! I do wonder if Gallup poll in this is accurate? I'm just thinking in reference to the polls here and the least positive countries. I'd think the two Congo's would be right up there. Hell, there's a handful of war-torn African countries that should be up there, ya know? Yemen, okay. Haiti, Iraq, but... then again, it doesn't give a full list.
a_phoenixdragon 25th-Dec-2012 08:51 am (UTC)
I like the idea of happy countries and places where people smile more easily! Brought a smile to my face - so...thank you OP!

*Pictures a whole country of smiling people*
xylophagous 25th-Dec-2012 09:58 am (UTC)
Seriously, I just moved to Okinawa Japan less than a week ago and how nice all the local people seem is just astounding. As soon as you walk into a place (fast food even) everyone just greets happily and does their best to work with the language barrier. They also say thank you about 50 times even if you leave without buying anything.
a_phoenixdragon 25th-Dec-2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
That is so awesome! Just the thought makes me smile - thank you!!

We're rather friendly here, but that seems to be slowly fading as time goes on. Tis sad, really. So it is nice to hear of a place so filled with lovely people!

Thank you for making my Christmas morning that much better, dear! Happy Holidays (or happy Tuesday if you do not celebrate!)

cindyanne1 25th-Dec-2012 10:42 am (UTC)
The more you have, the more you have to lose... and you get greedier and more unhappy trying not to lose it, and you get worried and stressed because you are afraid for it.

I have seen this firsthand in my own husband. I've seen it in other people as well. People tell me the stress and change in attitude is just from growing up or getting older or whatever. I don't think it is.

We've had so little that it didn't matter if we lost it, and yes that's a different type of stress but there's a freedom in it too. Looking back, I can remember us thinking the only thing we needed to be truly happy was money. I was so wrong.
hinoema 25th-Dec-2012 11:41 am (UTC)
If it gets warmer here and there's a chance they might come up north, then I'm thinking about moving to Europe.

For some reason, I got this mental picture of you holed up in an igloo, with nothing to be seen but two suspicious eyes and a ready flyswatter.

Honestly, we live in a culture whose economy depends on creating false expectations and needs to be fulfilled by buying, by getting more money to buy more, and we wonder why we're stressed and unhappy. Maybe we need to stop letting so many others set our bar for happiness.
playedinloops 25th-Dec-2012 01:20 pm (UTC)
I should not have googled human bot fly.

I'd like to see the full list.
pamelalillian 26th-Dec-2012 02:22 pm (UTC)
omg thank you for stopping me
layweed 25th-Dec-2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Hah. People ask me why I don't want to move back to Singapore...and that's why. It's a total rat race. You work long hours, get paid peanuts, the cost of living is going up and up and up...
mimblexwimble 25th-Dec-2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
i googled human bot fly oh god why
roseofjuly 25th-Dec-2012 03:30 pm (UTC)
Don't buy it, and it's not even the small sample size.

What does "a lot" mean? What does "treated with respect" mean? When you're asking people from completely different countries and cultures, how do we have any way of knowing that "treated with respect" means the same thing in Trinidad as it does in Canada?

Some experts say that's a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.

Exactly. In some cultures it's taboo to let on that you aren't doing or feeling well. In other cultures it's the norm to complain even when things are going fine. How can we be sure this is a measure of actual happiness rather than a measure of cultural differences in expressing that happiness?
teacoat 25th-Dec-2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
I don't think an objective measurement of how often someone smiles would be more beneficial than a subjective one, though. Person A could smile twice as many times in one day as Person B, but if Person B feels like they smiled "a lot" and Person A doesn't, it's probably because Person B is more happy, don't you think? Same thing with the treated with respect question. Yeah, maybe Canadians have higher expectations for what it means to be treated with respect, but the point is if they feel like they aren't being treated with respect, by whatever standard they might be applying, then they're going to be less happy. This poll is subjective because happiness is inherently subjective.
distilledvanity 26th-Dec-2012 01:12 pm (UTC)
I live in Thailand which is the "Land of Smiles" and yeah people are more relaxed and smile a lot but there's also a lot of poverty, huge gap between rich and poor, human and animal trafficking, and really bad corruption. The culture is to not talk about those things though and carry on but then there is also a lot of pent up emotions that come out in apocalyptic ways. So yeah, happiness is totally subjective.
__nocturna 26th-Dec-2012 01:52 am (UTC)
They are really trying to pass off a poll of 150k people, as a poll about the whole word... ooookay then
deathbytamarind 26th-Dec-2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Most of the people I met in the Dominican Republic were endlessly polite and kind and really interested in me and what I was all about. It was a nice change of pace from pissy-ass Americans. Whether or not that means Dominicans are happier, I don't know. But they sure are nice.
distilledvanity 26th-Dec-2012 01:17 pm (UTC)
Guatemela is run by gangs, people are being murdered brutally every single day. Being a bus driver is the most dangerous job. WTF at this poll?

crossfire 26th-Dec-2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
Botflys are gross, but are no match for a venom extractor syringe [TW: Photos of a lesion and extraction process].
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