Special Report

The World's Most Content (and Miserable) Countries

6. Costa Rica
> Positive experience index score: 82
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 85% (tied – 13th highest)

> GDP per capita: $12,874 (58th highest)
> Life expectancy: 79 (tied, 21st highest)

Costa Rica had a higher percentage of respondents who said they experienced enjoyment in the previous day than most other countries. Three-quarters of Costa Ricans said they felt well-rested, among the highest of the surveyed nations, and 85% of the country’s residents said that they smiled or laughed within the past day. Costa Rica also ranked better than all but four other nations in the percentage of citizens who felt they were treated with respect. As with many of the countries in Latin America, money was not the determining factor in peoples’ positive feelings. The government spent just 19.8% of GDP on its residents, less than most other countries.

5. Ecuador
> Positive experience index score: 83
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 84% (tied – 15th highest)
> GDP per capita: $10,610 (67th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 75 (40th highest)

In 2012, 75% of Ecuador’s rural population had access to clean water, a considerable improvement from previous years. Poverty has also been on the decline, with 27.3% living beneath the national poverty level in 2012, down from 36% in 2009. The IMF forecasts Ecuador’s economy to remain relatively stable, with a low inflation rate and moderately good unemployment rate. Overall, life seems to be improving for Ecuadorians. Residents felt extremely positive and were among the most likely people surveyed by Gallup to say they had learned something new in the previous day, at 76%.

4. Nicaragua
> Positive experience index score: 84
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 90% (tied – 2nd highest)
> GDP per capita: $$4,548 (39th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 73 (62nd highest)

Only Paraguay had a higher percentage of people who said they smiled or laughed in the previous day than Nicaragua. More than 80% of its citizens said they felt well-rested, and 72% said that they learned something new in the preceding 24 hours. Both figures were among the highest out of all the countries surveyed. Even the country’s frequent earthquakes, such as the one on April 11 that injured hundreds of people and damaged homes, did not appear to dampen Nicaraguans positive outlook too much. The country is dealing with several economic problems, including a higher inflation rate than most countries. In addition, the country hopes to improve the economy by strengthening its currency, the córdoba. Nicaragua asked the IMF for help in the matter.

3. Guatemala
> Positive experience index score: 83
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 88% (tied – 5th highest)
> GDP per capita: $5,265 (44th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 71 (tied, 60th lowest)

Guatemala’s GDP per capita has been fairly low, estimated at $5,265 last year, among the lower figures compared with other countries reviewed. GDP growth was not especially high, estimated at 3% in 2012 and 3.3% in 2013. The country was also involved in a brutal, 36-year long civil war, which ended in 1996 but is still fresh in many Guatemalans’ memories. Despite the country’s bloody history and its low per capita GDP, Guatemala residents were among the most positive people in the world. Survey respondents felt well-treated — 95% said they were treated with respect the day before, more than all but a handful of nations.

2. Panama
> Positive experience index score: 86
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 90% (tied – 2nd highest)
> GDP per capita: $16,540 (48th highest)
> Life expectancy: 77 (30th highest)

Panama residents live longer than most in Latin America. They had a life expectancy at birth of 77 as of 2011. The country’s economy is also doing quite well in terms of jobs. The country’s unemployment rate was estimated to be 4.2% last year, one of the lowest rates among all countries reviewed. The country also had one the world’s fastest-growing national economies in recent years. GDP growth rate exceeded 10% in both 2011 and 2012 before falling to an estimated 7.5% last year. Nine in 10 survey respondents said they smiled or laughed the day before they were asked, second only to Paraguay. Residents were also the most likely to have learned something new, a key indicator in job satisfaction and well-being.

1. Paraguay
> Positive experience index score: 87
> Pct. smiled or laughed: 92% (the highest)
> GDP per capita: $6,758 (54th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 72 (62nd highest)

Paraguay notched a score of 87 on Gallup’s Positive Experience Index, higher than any other nation surveyed. The country also had the highest percentage of people who said they smiled or laughed in the preceding 24 hours, and of people who felt they were treated with respect. The country’s GDP grew by an estimated 12% in 2013, higher than all but two other nations surveyed. Like residents in other countries, Paraguayans are often positive in the face of political turmoil.. Former President Fernando Lugo was impeached in 2012 in part due to his handling of a violent land dispute between the government and the country’s farmers, which resulted in 17 people being killed. Lugo was also ousted in part because of the country’s struggling economy at the time, although it saw a resurgence one year later in terms of GDP growth.

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