Geography of joy? Where the world's happiest people live.
Seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America, says a new Gallop survey. Panama is No. 1 on the list. People in 148 nations were asked: Were they well-rested, had they been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.
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Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures' overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn't undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.Skip to next paragraph
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"Those expressions are a reality, and that's exactly what we're trying to quantify," he said. "I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries."
Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.
Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.
Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but "happy about my family."
"Overall, I'm happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world," he said. "We're Caribbean people, we're people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more."
Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren't looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.
"We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There's hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you're always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here," he said.
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."
Associated Press writers Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in Guatemala City; Juan Zamarano in Panama City; Sylvia Hui in London; Angela Charlton in Paris; Heather Tan in Singapore; Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia; and Pedro Servin in Asuncion, Paraguay, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.