Gallup recently published its Gallup-Healthways State of Global Well-Being: “2014 Country Well-Being Rankings” report.
For the second year in a row, Panama came out on top of the rankings, with the highest score overall.
“The Global Well-Being Index measures well-being across five elements (purpose, social, financial, community and physical) and individual responses are categorized as thriving, struggling or suffering….,” the report’s authors wrote. “Our analysis ranks countries based on the percentage of the population that is thriving in three or more elements of well-being.”
Panama “leads all other countries in well-being, with 53% of its residents thriving in three or more elements,” Gallup reported. “Panama is also the highest country for purpose (60%) and physical well-being (52%).”
But Panama’a repeat isn’t the whole story. In fact, seven of the ten “highest well-being countries,” as defined by Gallup, are in Latin America.
For perspective, the US dropped to 23rd place in 2014, from 12th in 2013. Afghanistan ranked last in the report, at 145.
We were curious about why Latin Americans fared so well in terms of their well-being, so we checked in with Dan Witters, Gallup-Healthways Research Director, to get some insight.
“It’s a culture of positive outlook,” he said. “It permeates Latin America.”
He added: “There are some pretty poor countries there, characterised by many decades of civil strife, human rights abuses, and outright civil war — yet people maintain pretty impressive levels of objective well-being. For those of us who spend all of time in well-being measurement, it was no surprise to see Latin American countries in there.”
For all of 2014, Gallup’s researchers interviewed 146,000 adults in 145 countries to obtain its data.
“Our research shows that people with higher well-being have higher productivity, lower healthcare costs, are more resilient in the face of challenges and are more likely to contribute to the success of their organisations and communities,” the authors wrote.
Money is a factor in well-being, but as Witters noted, it’s only important up to a point. This is backed up by a significant amount of research that has been conducted over the past fours decades, under the rubric of “happiness economics,” a field that has gained increasing respect in the academic world after being pioneered in the 1970s by Richard Easterlin, who is now at the University of Southern California.
In the US for example, happiness peaks at about $US75,000 in annual income and then doesn’t climb higher. And if you’re already rich, you have to get much, much richer to move up the happiness scale.
According to Witter, “negative affect,” or the tendency to view one’s well-being as limited, bottoms out at $US75,000. And unfortunately, stress can start to increase again if you move beyond that income bracket.
In Panama, the ability to be optimistic about finding employment also moves the needle of well-being. Witter said that in the happiest country in the happiest overall region, Latin America, people report that it’s a good time to find a job.
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