Why Are the Happiest People in Latin America?

Illustration for article titled Why Are the Happiest People in Latin America?

Qatar may be one of the richest countries in the world, and the United States may be the home of the free and the land of the brave, but a new poll has found that seven of the world's happiest countries are in Latin America.


According to the AP:

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.


The poll's data was gleaned from 150,000 people around the world. Besides Guatemala, also in the top ten are Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Singapore has the special honor of being the place where people were least likely to say they were happy. The AP rustled up a grim quote:

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.

But before you book your flight to Paraguay, ask yourself: Why are folks in Latin America so pleased with themselves? Are they actually living more joyful lives? Or is there some kind of cultural tendency to look on the bright side?

"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.


Similarly, Armenia was one of the least positive countries, and this did not surprise an Armenian:

"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."


Something to keep in mind if you've been watching House Hunters International and itching to move to Guatemala immediately.

[CBS News via AP, Gallup]

Image of happy lady in Guatemala by Mike Cohen/Shutterstock.

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Did you have to use that picture? Was that the best representation of Latin American people? Do you actually know anyone that looks like that?