Happiness Linked to Patriotism, Especially in Poor Countries

The more satisfied people are with their country, the happier they are with their lives, suggests a new study of 128 countries. The connection between national satisfaction and happiness was particularly strong for people with low incomes and those living in poorer nations.

The Gallup organization polled 1,000 people in 128 of the 195 or so countries in the world (There is no global agreement on how many countries there are because of sovereignty disagreements, such as the one between China and Taiwan.) The pollsters asked respondents about their income, job satisfaction, and opinions on their life and country.

The analysis, published in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science, revealed that good feelings about your nation are correlated with a rosy outlook on your personal life. The association was present across the globe, but was strongest in poorer and non-Western nations, said study author Mike Morrison, a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"You can hear politicians in any country declare, 'We live in the best country in the world!' and people cheer," Morrison said in a statement. This idealization seems most potent for those who are worse off financially, the study found.

Individuals with low income and those in poor countries may find patriotism appealing as a way of consoling themselves in rough times, Morrison said. People in non-Western countries also tend to be less individualistic than Westerners, so they may get a bigger personal boost from warm feelings about their collective group.

Wealthier and Western respondents linked their happiness more closely with individual factors, including health, job satisfaction and standard of living, than did poorer and non-Western respondents.

The study shows that societal characteristics, not just individual traits, can influence happiness, study co-author Ed Diener, a happiness researcher at the University of Illinois, said in a statement.

"What is more, societal characteristics become even more important to happiness when one's life is not going well," Diener said. "This might explain why nationalism, the loyalty of sports fans, and religiosity can be very strong in the toughest of times."

You can follow LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.