You'll Never Guess Where the U.S. Ranks in the Latest World's Happiest Countries Survey

No, not even close to being in the top ten.

Photo Credit: William Perugini/

The bad news is that the U.S. ranks significantly behind many South and Central American countries—including poor ones, like Guatemala and Ecuador; and countries with political unrest, like Venezuela—in terms of happiness. The good news? We’re ahead of Russia. Take that Mr. Putin!

This according to a recent happiness poll by Gallup, which surveyed people in 138 countries asking them a variety of questions, to come up with an overall ranking of the emotional well-being of their residents. Who’s number one, you ask? For the third year in a row, it’s Paraguay, where 87 percent of residents score high on the happiness index.

The questions included whether people feel rested, whether they feel treated with respect, whether they laughed or smiled a lot, whether they experienced enjoyment, and whether they had done something interesting the day before. 1,000 people were surveyed in each country.

The result? Latin America kicks butt, occupying all top five spots. So, congrats to the happy folks living in:

1.     Paraguay

2.     Panama

3.     Guatemala

4.     Nicaragua

5.     Ecuador

And condolences to the bottom five:

1.     Syria

2.     Chad

3.     Lithuania

4.     Bosnia

5.     Serbia

And where did the U.S. rank, you ask? We’re number 19! Rah! Go number 19! Tied with Chile, Argentina and Sweden.

Jon Clifton, manager of the Gallup World Poll, told that Latin America’s dominance among the happiest countries was not a surprise. “It’s a pretty emotional culture,” he said. “A lot of positive emotions.” Interestingly, people in Latin America also rank high for negative emotions, but the positive ones outweigh the negative.

He also explained that the poll was designed to take into account the factors that drive happiness. “A big factor is workplace,” he reported. “Or school, for students. Another is financial well-being.” Another important factor: A sense of community.

Workplace happiness—or, we should say—unhappiness is one of the factors that drags down the score for the U.S. Our least happy day is Wednesday, and Americans are happiest on weekends. So, if you’re unhappily reading this at work right now, you’re not alone. Feel better? Oh, and happiness and income level don't necessarily correlate either. Clifton says that liking your job even at the risk of earning less usually makes for a higher happiness quotient.

After the top five came a three-way tie: Costa Rica (no standing army, maybe that’s part of it), Colombia and Denmark (the first Western and European country on the list.). One expert attributes Denmark’s happiness to the fact that people don’t have particularly high expectations for the future there, and therefore are seldom disappointed.

In fact, that expert, Eric Weiner, author of “The Geography of Bliss,” suspects that American optimism is part of the problem. “We think too much about happiness,” he told the Washington Post, pointing out the sheer number of self-help books on the subject as evidence.

We bet you’re thinking about happiness right now. See? Stop it.

Some other surprises: Venezuela made the top ten, despite its recent political unrest. China’s somewhat low ranking of 28th speaks to what Weiner calls the “East Asian Happiness Gap,” which is the difference between economic growth and contentment. And Bhutan is all the way down at 82, despite having a Ministry of Happiness, and despite the fact that people say they are very well rested there. Go figure. Russia is all the way down at 103. According to Weiner, you don’t even have to live there to be unhappy. Having any contact at all with Russia makes people less happy.

Last place Syria is really no surprise at all. As Weiner said, somewhat obviously, to WaPo: “War is bad for happiness.”






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