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Poll suggests that money really, truly doesn't buy happiness

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A recent poll has found that maybe money really doesn't buy happiness. People in moderate to poor Latin American countries report the highest levels of personal satisfaction, whereas the wealthy nation of Singapore is ranked the lowest.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Affluent European nations such as Germany and France were found to be as glum as the chaotic country of Somalia. Qatar, the richest country in the world, and Japan, where people have the longest life expectancy were not on the top 10 list of happiest countries. 

The poll of nearly 150,000 people around the world found that seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

Questions posed by the Gallup Poll asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.

In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. These two countries were then closely followed by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven crimes has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income - but it ranks seventh in positive emotions.

"In Guatemala, it's a culture of friendly people who are always smiling," Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor says. "Despite all the problems that we're facing, we're surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all."

Not surprisingly, the poll shows that prosperous nations can also be deeply unhappy ones. Poverty-stricken countries are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.

"Happiness economics," a relatively new and controversial field seeks to improve government performance by adding people's perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.

As an example, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world's most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.

However - there are some experts who claim that such an approach could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. The Gallup poll, some say may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.

At the bottom of the list are such countries as Armenia, Georgia and Lithuania, where misery is something a little more ephemeral.

"Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here," Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan says. "Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation's history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful."

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