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18 Sep, 2014 12:31

Happiest country in the world? Global index may surprise you

Happiest country in the world? Global index may surprise you

When you think of how happy people in a whole country are, what do you take into account? True, country well-being and perception of own happiness depend greatly on the economic situation. But it’s Panama that tops Gallup’s Global Well-being Index.

The Gallup-Healthways index, released for the year 2013, puts the Latin American country at number one, with war-torn Syria and Afghanistan coming in last in a survey of 135 countries.

The international survey, entitled The State of Global Well-being, conducted more than 133,000 interviews across the world, coming up with its ‘inaugural report’. It contained country and regional rankings, well-being profiles of countries, industry perspectives on well-being improvement and recommendations for said improvement.

The index, which encompasses the above survey, features a total of six years’ work and over 2 million interviews conducted.

Schoolchildren take part in a parade to commemorate Costa Rica's Independence Day in San Jose (Reuters / Juan Carlos Ulate)

As Gallup-Healthways explains, “Globally, higher well-being correlates with outcomes indicative of stability and resilience — for example, healthcare utilization, intent to migrate, trust in elections and local institutions, daily stress, food/shelter security, volunteerism and willingness to help strangers.”

The survey essentially gauged own perceptions of well-being and four other factors that contribute to it: social well-being, community well-being (measuring whether an individual likes where they live), the presence of purpose and physical health.

GDP per capita of countries ranked top and bottom in the index:

Panama - $11,036.81 USD

Costa Rica - $10,184.61 USD

Denmark - $58,929.62 USD

USA - $53,142.89 USD

Russia - $14,611.70 USD

Afghanistan - $678.35 USD

Syria - $2,065.54 USD

It turns out that, sadly, only one in six adults scored high marks in three of the above categories, with the pervasive mood being one of ‘struggling’ and ‘suffering’ across the board, according to the researchers.

“Each element of well-being is important on its own, but the elements are also interdependent and well-being is more than the sum of the elements. That only 17 percent of residents in the 135 countries and areas surveyed are thriving in three or more elements underscores how most of the world is struggling to achieve high well-being,” the researchers say in a statement on their website.

“More adults globally are thriving in community well-being (26 percent) than in any other element,” they said, seeing American adults as most likely to thrive in that respect, while sub-Saharan Africans are deemed least likely.

The fewest number of adults worldwide were found to be happy with their purpose in life, Gallup-Healthways discovered.

A boy dives into a crater filled with water in Aleppo's al-Shaar district, Syria (Reuters / Hosam Katan)

“Adults in Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, are least likely to be thriving in this element (13 percent in each region), while those in the Americas again top the list of regions, at 37 percent, thriving in purpose well-being.”

The luckiest countries where individuals were likely to be ‘thriving’ in more than three categories start with Panama with 61 percent, followed by Costa Rica with 44, then Denmark, Austria, Brazil, Uruguay, El Salvador, Sweden, Guatemala and Canada, from 39 to 34 percent.

Financial well-being is the only category in which Panama is outdone – by Sweden, with a whopping 72 percent of financially-happy citizens.

Sub-Saharan Africa ranked lowest across the board in all categories, with three or more elements of well-being scoring only nine percent. However, in taking countries separately, it was Afghanistan and Syria who ranked by far the most miserable, with only one percent of Syrian and Afghan adults reporting satisfaction in more than three of the categories.