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Riches don't necessarily ensure tranquility, Gallup poll finds

Published Dec. 20, 2012

MEXICO CITY

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.

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.

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 successful."

The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook.

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."

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