Why Latin Americans top the happiness rankings

A global index on happiness shows several Latin American countries topping the list. The report cites centrality of family as a key reason.

Rodrigo Abd/AP/File
A couple dances in a public park in Guatemala City in June. A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

This month an index of global happiness was released, and the results showed that many countries in Latin America were the world’s happiest. Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Costa Rica were all at the top of the survey. Colombia was ranked 11th, and Mexico and Brazil ranked around 20th.

Experts have suggested many reasons for the results. One includes the ability of Latin Americans to look beyond immediate problems and live life day-by-day, despite what is going on externally. It suggests that constant problems make people adapt and live positively, perhaps because it is difficult to constantly fear the worse and still live a productive life. Other explanations include cultural aspects that teach Latin Americans to keep a positive face on things, even if there are personal problems.

These are both interesting suggestions. The fact that having less might make someone feel as if he has more to be positive about could come from an appreciation for the smaller things in life. This could also be a reason why countries like France and Germany did not do well on the survey: if you are higher up, you will hit the ground harder if you do happen to fall. Regarding a positive attitude, I think the culture of Latin America does not just place a happy face on every situation, as families and close friends do have constant, open, and honest discussions, both positive and negative. It might be that in difficult times the support people get from those around them helps lift everyone in general. Even if negative things do happen, it is the support from families and close friends that makes the negativity more bearable. 

In addition, there is also a culture in Latin America that does not promote negativity with every aspect of life. Being constantly negative may not thrive when a community of open and honest individuals is there for support. There is simply no room to seek out the worst-case scenario when you have so many in your corner.

While not exclusive to Latin America, the culture of family, support, and living a life to spend time with your family, I think, is an important part of Latin American culture that keeps people positive. Being with those close to you and finding other friends and partners that value that way of life is a key part of Latin American culture. That might be the main reason why people remain positive: they are never truly alone. Interestingly, many discussions and documentaries about immigrant groups in the United States show an internal conflict among many who move to the US and who do not wish to lose their support systems in a new culture rooted in individualism. While being motivated and entrepreneurial is valued, a life being with your family, where you are never truly alone, is the basis for many cultures in many parts of the world. Many new Americans frown on the thought that children can detach themselves from their family at 18 years of age. They believe people can only truly thrive as a family.

– Rich Basas is a Latin America blogger and Europe blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read the blogs here for both Latin America and Europe.

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