Surprising Facts About the World’s Happiest People

Chicago Defender, IL
Dec 21 2012

Surprising Facts About the World’s Happiest People


(AP) – 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

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

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

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.”