The Most Positive Places in the World
Who are the most content people in the world?
Every year, Gallup conducts a worldwide survey to measure how people see and live their lives. Pollsters ask questions like "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" and "Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?" to figure out which country's residents enjoy the best overall sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction.
The survey assesses 1,000 adults in 143 countries to determine scores for both positive and negative emotions.
Which nations are feeling best? Read on.
The Most Positive Countries
Of the most positive nations in the world, the majority were in Latin America. Since Gallup began compiling its Positive Experience Index (or PEI) in 2006, most countries have averaged between 68 and 71 out of 100.
In Latin America, nine countries had PEIs over 80.
Why? Gallup singles out a "cultural tendency in the region to focus on life’s positives" and notes its residents "laugh, smile and experience enjoyment like no one else in the world."
Which country has the feel-good emotions locked down? That would be Panama, which earned the top score on the PEI: a stellar 85 out of 100.
Considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, Panama is connected to the world through its Panama Canal, one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Add white-sand beaches, rain-forested mountains and colonial villages filled with smiling people to the mix, and it's easy to see why Panama has found joy — and travelers can, as well.
Fun fact: Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Atlantic and set on the Pacific. That would make us feel pretty content, too!
Tying with Panama on the positive scale is this landlocked South American nation.
Sharing the Itaipu Falls with Brazil, the country is divided by a massive river and is full of mountains covered in rainforests. It's also unspoiled by tourists, as it hasn't (yet!) ranked high on the international destination to-do list. That means its ruins, forests and cities are less crowded, which is good news for locals and travelers alike.
Fun fact: The national language here is not Spanish but Guaraní, making Paraguay one of the few countries to keep its native tongue as the official language.
It Must Be Really Interesting
A key indicator of positivity, according to Gallup researchers, is feeling fulfilled with life, which includes learning, growing and taking on new challenges.
In the Gallup poll, 49 percent of people around the world said they learned or did something interesting the day before the interview — up from 46 percent in 2018.
Three-quarters of El Salvador's residents reported learning or doing something interesting the day before, landing it the top spot in this category (tied with the overall winner of Panama).
Perhaps this has something to do with El Salvador's robust cultural scene. The country is an artists' haven, filled with art galleries, dynamic street art and fascinating museums, and its theaters are world-class.
It's easy to feel fulfilled when cultural attractions are a national priority.
Fun fact: The country is known as the Land of Volcanoes, thanks to its 23 active volcanoes. No word on how this impacts the country's sense of contentment.
Seventy-three percent of Guatemala's residents reported learning something interesting the day before, making it one of the top countries in that category (it was also ranked third overall for positivity).
The most populous country in Central America is made up of descendants of the Mayans — 40 percent of the country is indigenous. The Mayans considered the cacao tree the "food of the Gods" and introduced the world to chocolate. Considering chocolate has been found to boost feel-good endorphins, and Guatemala is a mass producer and exporter of chocolate, could it be all this positivity comes from the cocoa beans?
Fun fact: Tikal National Park was featured as the rebel base in Yavin in the original "Star Wars: A New Hope."
To lead a happy life, it's important that stress, worry, anger and pain be kept to a minimum. That's why Gallup also created a Negative Experience Index (NEI) to determine which countries are best able to ward off these negative emotions.
On this count, Asia fared best; the majority of its countries had negative scores lower than 20.
Taiwan had the lowest overall Negative Experience Index score: 14. As a point of comparison, the country with the highest rate of negative emotions, Chad, scored a 54.
Could it be the island nation feels less worry and stress because it's surrounded by beautiful water? (It's an island nation, after all.) Or maybe it's because its people love using bicycles for transportation — exercise is known to relieve stress and pain.
Or, could it be that the garbage trucks play music? Perhaps not, but that certainly suggests a certain joi de vivre approach to life.
Fun fact: Before receiving its current name after WWII, the island was called "Ilha Formosa," which is Portuguese for "beautiful island."
Its garbage trucks may not play music, but Singapore's people feel pretty darn good, too. The country nabbed a low score of 17 on the index for negativity.
Not far from Taiwan, Singapore is renowned for its cleanliness, year-round summers and abundance of greenery throughout its skyscraper-filled streets. It's also extremely safe, which almost certainly plays a role in its low levels of negative emotions.
Fun fact: Singapore banned chewing gum in an effort to stay clean — you cannot buy it, chew it, sell it or blow bubbles with it, or you will receive a fine.
Tied with Singapore on the index for negative experiences, Kazakhstan's people told pollsters they experienced low levels of stress and worry.
This is probably in part due to the country's economic stability. Or perhaps contentment is reserved for the young? More than 50 percent of Kazakhs are under the age of 30 — and 25 percent are under the age of 15!
Fun fact: The mythical Amazon warriors may have been inspired by the Scythian warriors of Kazakstan.
When it comes to feeling well-rested, another key indicator of contentment, Asia leads the pack yet again.
Eight of the 10 most well-rested nations are found in Asia, with the majority of people — over 80 percent — reporting they'd received plenty of rest and relaxation the day before.
Eighty-six percent of Mongolians feel they are well-rested, the highest percentage on the report. In this expansive country, a quarter of residents are nomads who travel great distances between villages. Locals welcome all travelers into their homes and offer a refreshing beverage to them before they head back out.
Sounds like locals understand the importance of rest!
Fun fact: With 250 sunny days annually, Mongolia is known as the "Land of the Eternal Blue Sky."
Indonesia, along with Uzbekistan and Vietnam, scored high on the rested list, as well. Eighty-five percent of those polled answered "yes" to the question about R&R.
Although yoga began in India, the practice of yoga and meditation is very popular in Indonesia, which could explain why the people feel so relaxed. The country's beautiful clear-blue water, sandy beaches and lush-green rainforests probably don't hurt, either.
Fun fact: The largest Buddhist temple in the world is found in Indonesia, with 504 Buddha statues.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and for those who laugh and smile each day, positivity rules. Gallup didn't ask if a respondent smiled once; they were searching for those who smiled and laughed often throughout the previous day.
Who smiles the most? With nearly 100 percent of the country reporting their joy, Nigerians could be nicknamed the "Land of Laughter."
The largest African country in terms of population, Nigeria rests along the Ivory Coast and is actually nicknamed the "Giant of Africa." The country's history of poor living conditions and low standard of living makes its life expectancy just 52 years of age, but that doesn't stop its people from smiling every day.
Fun fact: Nigeria is one of the largest movie-producing nations in the world, nicknamed "Nollywood."
A healthy 90 percent of Sri Lankans said they laughed and smiled a lot the day before (tying the country with El Salvador and Indonesia).
This small island off the coast of India is renowned for its beautiful scenery and ancient customs that remain in tact today. Travelers the world over enjoy meeting the smiling, friendly people of this nation formerly called "Serendib,” meaning "wondrous surprise."
If your country's nickname hinted at beauty at every turn, you'd probably be smiling, too!
Fun fact: There are more than 100 waterfalls in Sri Lanka.
So how did the U.S. fare in the poll? In a nutshell: not well.
The country didn't land at the top or bottom of any lists, but it was cited as being among the worst in terms of stress. Fifty-five percent of surveyed Americans said they'd experienced stress during much of the previous day, compared to the worldwide average of just 35 percent.
Meanwhile, 45 percent reported feeling worried the day before, and 22 percent angry.
According to Gallup, "more Americans were stressed, angry and worried last year than they have been at most points during the past decade."
What a Wonderful World
A poor showing for the U.S. notwithstanding, the poll's numbers were promising overall. Gallup found:
- 87 percent of people surveyed felt they were treated with respect
- 74 percent of people said they smiled or laughed a lot
- 71 percent felt enjoyment
Looks like people are feeling pretty good on the whole!
Read the full Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report.