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May 29, 2014 at 7:58 am

Paraguay topped this year’s Gallup Poll measuring positive emotions around the world. Gallup noted that “Despite the conflict and unrest that dominates much of the news, people around the world are experiencing a lot of positive emotions. At least seven in 10 adults worldwide report experiencing lots of enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, feeling well-rested, and being treated with respect, while a slight majority (51%) report that they learned or did something interesting the day before.”

While it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about this data for a variety of reasons (e.g., the poll asked people about how they felt the day before, not over time; wording of questions may have introduced bias; it samples only 138 countries; ‘wellbeing’ is highly subjective and hard to measure), it’s interesting to note that 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest “Positive Experience Index” are in Latin America.

Gallup noted “That so many people are reporting positive emotions in Latin America at least partly reflects the cultural tendency in the region to focus on the positives in life.” This speaks to the power of perspective that can mitigate factors like high rates of income inequality and crime that certainly impact sense of wellbeing (I would hope that the poll controlled for demographics like income, but not sure). Again, not to oversimplify, but Syria appeared last on the list, which isn’t a surprise, considering the devastating political climate there. The US appeared 33rd on this list.

Another recent data set, also from Gallup, uses the ‘Ladder of Life’ (likely a more meaningful questionnaire) – to measure wellbeing, asking people where they rate their life from 0 (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible). The results of this put Denmark at the top, followed by Canada and Norway. On this wellbeing scale, 3 out of the top 12 countries were also from Latin America. The US appeared 16th on this list.

My curiosity about global happiness led me to the Happy Planet Index (HPI) – an interesting data resource developed by the New Economics Foundation that evaluates 151 countries based on the “extent to which they produce long, happy, sustainable lives.” Each country is given an aggregate score compiled from data on “experienced wellbeing,” “life expectancy,” and “ecological footprint.” Similar to the latest Gallup poll on positive emotions, 8 out of the top 10 HPI countries were also from Latin America!

Of course, states like ‘happiness’ and ‘wellbeing’ are highly subjective and difficult to measure, but what is going on in Latin America that we should learn more about? What are your thoughts about the interplay between culture and wellbeing in general?