For the first time in a decade, the top 10 happiest countries in the world are all in Latin America, according to the 2014 Gallup Positive Experience Index.
Paraguay placed first out of 143 countries, with its people reporting the most positive emotions on a daily basis, according to the survey. Gallup researchers released the results for the United Nations' third annual International Day of Happiness today (March 20).
To gauge happiness levels around the world, researchers interviewed about 1,000 people in each country, either in person or over the phone. All of the participants were age 15 or older, and answered questions about how happy they felt the day before. [See how each of the 143 countries placed on the 2014 list]
More than 70 percent of the respondents worldwide said they experienced enjoyment; smiled or laughed; felt well rested; and thought they were treated with respect, the poll found. What's more, half of the participants said they had learned or did something interesting the day before the interview, according to the poll.
Gallup researchers compiled a "positive experience index score" for each country based on the responses to these five questions. Overall, the world has an average index score of 71 out of 100, but all of the Latin American countries that ranked in the top 10 scored higher than that.
Here are the 10 happiest countries, listed with their positive experience index scores:
- Paraguay, 89
- Colombia, 84
- Ecuador, 84
- Guatemala, 84
- Honduras, 82
- Panama, 82
- Venezuela, 82
- Costa Rica, 81
- El Salvador, 81
- Nicaragua, 81
The United States received a score of 79, making it the 15th happiest country in the world, tied with 11 other countries, including Argentina and Canada.
People reported feeling happy even in war-torn countries, "perhaps testimony of the resiliency of the human spirit," Gallup officials said in a statement.
The rankings did not include Syria, the country with the lowest ranking last year, because Gallup released the report before Syria's score could be finalized. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]
Here are the 10 lowest-ranked countries for 2014, listed with their positive experience index scores:
- Sudan, 47
- Tunisia, 52
- Bangladesh, 54
- Serbia, 54
- Turkey, 54
- Bosnia and Herzegovina, 55
- Georgia, 55
- Lithuania, 55
- Nepal, 55
- Afghanistan, 55
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries had a positive emotion index average score of 59, the lowest regional score in the world. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, all of the countries in this region have scores lower than the global mean, Gallup researchers found. In fact, Tunisia received a score of 52, which is almost 20 points lower than the global average.
However, data has yet to be added from five countries in the Persian Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, a country that has scored well in the past, Gallup officials said.
People in the MENA countries also reported the highest negative emotions in the world. Last year, the MENA region included four of the world's top five countries for negative emotions, including Iran, which ironically made headlines this year when four young people were arrested for filming themselves dancing to the song "Happy" by American singer Pharrell Williams.
But people who report low positive emotions don't necessarily feel negative. For example, former Soviet Union countries often report some of the lowest positive and the lowest negative emotions worldwide, the poll found. This suggests that people in this region simply don't report many emotions at all, Gallup officials said.
The poll did not measure each country's gross domestic product (GDP), but instead focused on drivers that are key to positive emotions, such as laughing and feeling respected. Money can influence happiness, but only to a point, Gallup officials said, citing a 2010 study published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that found that once someone makes $75,000 a year, money has little impact on their daily emotions.
For instance, Guatemala's GDP ranks 118th in the world, but it is tied for the second-happiest country in the 2014 Gallup Positive Experience Index.
"There is much to be learned from Latin America on this International Day of Happiness, because while they aren't the wealthiest people in the world, they are certainly among the happiest," Gallup officials said.
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Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.