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Where are the World’s Happiest People?


On March 20, the United Nations celebrated its third annual International Day of Happiness.

So, Happy belated International Day of Happiness!

The UN created the holiday to include happiness as an indicator as to how we are succeeding as a global community.

In 2012, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said that for too long the world has used Gross National Product (GNP) to measure the well-being of a country’s population. In other words, the amount of money people made. Money certainly does help a country’s and a person’s well-being. But it is not the only factor.

So, you might be asking, where are the happiest people on the planet?

Gallup poll finds Latin America is a very happy place

If you live in Latin America, chances are you are happy, according to Gallup’s “Positive Experience Index.” This Gallup index found that day-to-day people in Latin America are some of the happiest people on the planet.

Members of a laughter club participate in a laughing exercise in Mumbai, India, May 2014. Don't tell them that India ranks quite low on the United Nations' happiness survey.

In fact, for the first time in Gallup's 10-year history of global tracking of happiness, all of the top 10 countries with the highest “Positive Experience Index” scores are in Latin America.

Here they are in descending order of happiness:

  1. Paraguay
  2. Colombia
  3. Ecuador
  4. Guatemala
  5. Honduras
  6. Panama
  7. Venezuela
  8. Costa Rica
  9. El Salvador
  10. Nicaragua

Gallup representatives asked adults in 143 countries the following questions: “Did you feel well-rested yesterday?” “Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? “Did you smile or laugh a lot?” “Did you learn or do something interesting?”

Paraguayan Anacleto Escobar (R) and his wife Cayetana Roman, smile during a ceremony coinciding with his 100th birthday in which they received a house.

They compiled the “yes” responses from these questions into what they call a “Positive Experience Index” score for each country.

The index score for the world in 2014 is 71. This number has remained steady through the years. More than 70% of people worldwide said they had fun, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well rested and respected.

Gallup gathered the information from face-to-face and phone interviews with about 1,000 adults from each country. They spoke with people in both rural and urban areas.

Fighting in Ukraine has affected life there. Here, children wait in line to see a U.S. militiary vehicle during the "Dragoon Ride" military exercise in Prague, March 31, 2015. (FILE PHOTO)

It is perhaps not surprising that places that experienced conflict such as South Sudan and Ukraine and places that suffered or are suffering from Ebola scored quite low on the “Positive Experience Index.”

However, even in places where the fewest people reported having positive emotions such as Afghanistan, the majority of people still said they smiled or laughed a lot the day before the Gallup interview.

Gallup found that the area of the world with the lowest positive emotions is in the Middle East and North Africa region. However, Gallup did not gather data from several countries in the Middle East in time to be included in the 2014 results. For example, data from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are not included. The UAE usually scores well on happiness surveys.

Last year, Syria had the lowest positive emotion points ever reported. Syria is not included in this year’s study as data was not available at the time the Gallup report was written.

Gallup’s happiness poll also found that having money is not necessarily the key to happiness. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but ties for second when it comes to positive emotions.

A larger picture of happiness

The United Nations did a much larger survey in 2013 called the World Happiness Report. Chances are Latin America countries will not be happy with this report.

The authors of this UN report considered factors such as healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, a country’s social support systems and experience with corruption. They also used some Gallup poll results on happiness.

The authors of the larger UN study say it is important when you measure for happiness that you separate happiness as an emotion and happiness as an evaluation of a person’s well-being.

For example, the answer to “Do you feel happy right now?” is a measure of a person’s emotion. And the answer to “Are you happy with your life as a whole?” measures an evaluation of a person’s well-being.

The Gallup poll on “Positive Experience” focused on how people felt the day before the survey. However, the larger U.N. study focused on a person’s life as a whole.

The results were quite different.

In the UN report, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries were in the top ten of the happiest places on earth.

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Switzerland
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Sweden
  6. Canada
  7. Finland
  8. Austria
  9. Iceland
  10. Australia

When considering all the other factors of the UN report, Paraguay falls from 1st to 54th, Colombia falls from 2nd to 35th, Ecuador from 3rd to 49th and Guatemala falls from 4th to 47th. Honduras falls from 5th to 84th. However, Costa Rica remains near the top moving from 8th to 12th.

According to the United Nations report, several sub-Saharan African countries where poverty is high were among the least happy. But other results did not fall along clear economic lines.

A fan displays her allegiance before a 2014 World Cup game against Greece. (FILE PHOTO)

Costa Rica was the 12th-happiest country, well above prosperous Japan in 43th place. Angola at 61st and Vietnam at 63rd were both happier places than major economies like China at 98th or India at 111th.

Studies can only tell us so much. In the comments section please share your happiness level and the happiness level of your country.

I’m Anna Matteo.

And I’m Mario Ritter.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from Gallup and the United Nations. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

index n. a sign or number that shows how something is changing or performing

indicator - n. a sign that shows the condition or existence of something.

poll - n. an activity in which several or many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to get information about what most people think about something

survey n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

data n. factual information used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation

evaluationn. to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study

prosperousadj. marked by success or economic well-being