How Happy Is Your Country? Happiness Explained via Gallup

The inspiration for my latest article can be attributed to the uber driver who escorted my friends and me into downtown D.C. last week. As a painfully social person, upon entering an Uber I always start a conversation. Once I started talking to him, I realized he had an accent and asked him where he was from. He answered that he was from the Middle East and only wanted to be in D.C. for a short period of time, a time that would expire once he acquired a “sizable fortune” to take home to his family.

I will be the first person to admit that I am not knowledgeable in the social, cultural or economic affairs of most countries—however, I am interested. Greece’s recent episode of almost being kicked out of the EU as well as being exposed to many different cultures this summer interning in D.C. has caused me to step out of my American bubble, if just for a moment. As a political science major, when I step out of my bubble the first place I turn to is my college’s databases, and second—google scholar. I was interested in finding an index of some sort that pegged different countries against one another according to different degrees of happiness. What country’s citizens were actually the happiest? Why? After perusing over various websites I decided to enlist another Political Science major “thing,” which is to be overly reliant on Gallup. With thousands of polls on just about anything and everything under the sun, Gallup has easily become one of my favorite resources in college. Since Gallup had never let me down before, I had faith it would continue to uphold that reputation.

After doing some research I hit the jackpot. There was in fact a recent poll conducted by Gallup that answered just that; the well-being of other people in different regions throughout the world. (Score).

Gallup calls it the Healthways Global Well-Being Index, and it measured adults according to the five “well-being” criteria of purpose, social, financial, community and physical happiness. Gallup spent over seven years conducting 2 million interviews with data collection spanning over 145 countries in order to produce this index. Through this research, Gallup was able to categorize countries on a scale from lowest to highest percentage of people who felt a criteria was met within their country.

Gallup defined each of the different criteria as follows: purpose- liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals; social-having supportive relationships and love in your life; financial- managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security; community- liking where you live and feeling safe/ pride in it; physical- having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

According to the results of the Gallup poll, Panama has the highest percentage of people who feel as though they have purpose in their lives at 60.5%—as well as the highest percentage for physical health, at 52.2%. Panama is also rated as the second highest in social well-being at 62.6%, and community health at 50% even. Even though Panama isn’t ranked in financial well-being, it leads the entire world in overall health with 53% of people considered thriving in one or more elements. Panama…really…? Yes. Gallup explains.

For one, the majority of the countries in the Americas has people who are considered “thriving,” or feel at the very least consistent in three or more of the well-being criteria. In fact, Latin American countries report having higher well-being than any other group and are the most likely to report “laughing, smiling and being treated with respect each day.” Panama’s Latin American predisposition has afforded it higher levels of positivity than other regions. In addition to that, the country is relatively politically stable, and lately has seen a rise in investment for national development, contributing to a growing economy. While investment has helped the Central American country, it still is struggling to provide its citizens a sense of security in their monetary funds.

So which countries do people feel they are the “richest” in monetary funds and have sense of security in their money? The answer is the citizens of many European countries (Greece not included). The top three countries on the list are Norway, Switzerland and Sweden, with each country having over half of the people claim financial security.

However, just because a country’s people report that they have control over their assets and a sense of security in them, doesn’t necessarily translate to living in a country with the a high GDP. For example, the United States ranks 10th in GDP per capita, but the citizens rank themselves 22nd in financial well-being. As I mentioned before, it pertains to how people feel they are doing financially. AKA when people who feel they are financially stable buy that venti caramel Frappuccino they view the cost as manageable (as to the calories—probably a different story). What does this imply? Well, citizens of the United States are unduly stressed about money. In a study done by NPR, the root of this stress isn’t just financial though, it’s actually mainly due to most citizens being overcommitted, with too many objectives to accomplish and too little time.

This comes as a shock to 0% of the population, also according to a recent Gallup poll… (jokes).

Some other countries, while not rated with high levels of overall well-being, still ranked highly on specific categories; with 63% of Puerto Ricans thriving in social well-being, and 50.1% of Sri Lankans thriving in community.


On the other end of the spectrum, Sub-Saharan regions as well as parts of the Middle East have citizens who rated themselves less than exceptional in well-being. In fact, one Middle Eastern country, Afghanistan, is at the lowest ranking out of all of the countries used– in every well-being criteria but one. There wasn’t a single person out of the 1,000 residents interviewed that considered themselves to be thriving, or “strong and consistent,” in three or more well-being elements. Only 2.7% of the Afghan residents interviewed were considered thriving financially, and only 8.3% were physically stable and consistent (yikes). The only aspect where the middle-eastern country wasn’t among the bottom 10 countries globally was community.

Overall, what are the implications of the Gallup Well-Being index? Well, research indicates that people with higher well-being are healthier, more productive as well as more resilient in the face of economic challenges. In fact, Gallup was able to deduce that improving a country’s well-being significantly impacts the performance of that population, as well as lowers the health care costs.

So next time a leader asks a constituent, “How are you doing today?” he/she should really pay attention to the response.

Imagine 3803517719 by the Photography muse is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0