Gallup recently did a world-wide study to find the nations with the happiest people in the world. The data was surprising. The results showed that seven of the world’s 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America. Gallup measured positive emotions in 148 countries and interviewed nearly 150,000 people around using five questions. These questions ask people whether they experienced a lot of enjoyment the day before the survey and whether they felt respected, well-rested, laughed and smiled a lot, and did or learned something interesting.
Material wealth and other factors are often equated with happiness, but they are really not factors when all is said and done. Surprisingly the world’s happiest people are not in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy or Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates nor the United States which was number 33 in the survey. Latin America’s biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list. Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.
Wealthy countries sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place. The people least likely to report positive emotions live in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. For example, Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. A 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis of Singapore recently said, “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 not a fair sense of work-life balance here.”
Residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita, are among the most likely to report positive emotions. Panama was followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Colombia which has a unfair reputation to begin with is eleventh on the list. A Latin American street vendor reflected the attitude of the people who live in the countries on the list in that despite tough economic conditions there is 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,” “We have to laugh at ourselves.”
Interestingly, Guatemala, which sits just above Iraq on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, 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, ranks seventh in positive emotions. “In Guatemala, it’s a culture of friendly people who are always smiling, Despite all the problems that we’re facing, we’re surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all,” said, a 30-year-old Guatemalan surfing instructor.
Who know? Living in a Latin American country might help you find happiness and change your outlook on life. I have seen hundreds of my clients who move here improve their lives in a number of ways.