The Happiest Country in the World

Turns out the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland after all.

Just in time for the International Day of Happiness on March 20, Gallup released the results of their latest Positive Experience Index poll to gauge happiness levels around the world.

So what country topped the list? Bet you’ll never guess.

Happiest Country South AmericaOne of the poorest countries in the world, Paraguay, scored the highest on the happiness chart. In fact, all of the top 10 countries with the highest scores – above 80 percent – were in Latin America. Apparently, money isn’t everything because Guatemala, also one of the poorest countries, tied for second place.

“There is much to be learned from Latin America on this International Day of Happiness, because while they aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, they are certainly among the happiest,” Gallup officials said.

Surprised with the results?

I was and then I wasn’t.

A Little About Paraguay

About 10 years ago, my family and I visited the little-known country of Paraguay. Friends of ours, Mickey and Sherry, were serving as missionaries there. Sherry’s mother wanted to visit but was in her 80s and couldn’t make the trip alone. We had never been to South America before, so we volunteered to accompany her.

To be truthful, I wasn’t sure Paraguay would be my cup of tea. Let’s face it, this extremely poor and rustic country doesn’t top any tourist list of places to visit. However, the vacation turned out to be one of our best.

I’ve traveled around the world, but the sights in this land were extraordinary – a woman walking with a box of chickens on her head, monkeys in trees, a family of five riding on a motorcycle on a typical red, dirt road, a lizard dragon, Jesuit ruins in rural villages, and cute coatis with no fear of humans that climbed up our legs. We drove by cemeteries with small houses where families were buried above ground – some more elaborate than houses they lived in while alive. And if you want to visit one of the most spectacular places in the world, you can’t go wrong with Iguazu Falls, where the magnificent waterfalls – taller and twice as wide as Niagara Falls – play with the light and create stunning rainbows throughout the park.

The land is full of farmers and cowboys, humble, shy, honest, and extremely hospitable people. We met several people on isolated ranches in Concepción, deep in the heart of rural Paraguay while visiting Bible students with our missionary friends. As pigs, chickens, and parrots wondered around us, every one of the people invited us to come in and sit down and, even though of little means, all of them insisted on feeding us. Most often they served the ever-popular chipas – small delicious breads often seen balanced on top of the heads of street vendors and baked on banana leaves in a traditional brick and mud oven – along with the sweet cocido negro to drink.

And you know what? The people of Paraguay looked happy. Everyone I met had a big smile on their face. Most of them do not have big fancy houses, Internet access, sports cars, or cell phones. Most Paraguayans live the simplest of lives. Typically, they have close-knit families, are spiritually inclined, enjoy modest meals with friends, and appreciate the simple joys in life.

Other Interesting Poll Results

happyAccording to this Gallup poll, the good news is that the majority of people in the world are happy. To measure happiness levels around the world, researchers interviewed about 1000 people from each country and asked questions about how happy they felt the day before.

On average, more than 70 percent of the respondents worldwide said they experienced enjoyment, smiled or laughed, felt well rested, and thought they were treated with respect. Half of the participants said they had learned or did something interesting the day before the interview.

The United States was the 15th happiest country in the world, tied with 11 other countries including New Zealand, Sweden, and Canada.  The Middle East and North Africa countries were the least happy with scores that averaged 59. If you’d like to see a full list and more information, see the article,  Mood of the World Upbeat on International Happiness Day.

As the above article points out, one of the most surprising findings was that in places such as war-torn Afghanistan, while scoring low on the poll, still had a majority of people saying they smiled or laughed a lot the day before the interview – perhaps giving testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Nepal, is another country struggling with poverty after a decade-long civil war and also scored low on the poll at 55. Yet, one of the country’s residents, Keshav Shiwakoti, 52, a former communist revolutionary who grew up in stark poverty, said in an interview for KCBX FM Radio:

“The small, fleeting moments make me happy – like the child I just saw on the street being breast-fed by her mother, or watching my baby goats play. It’s the joy in sunshine or rain. Sometimes I cry because I feel such great happiness.”

Likewise, Tara Devi, 45 years old, who has never attended school and has worked in the fields every day since she was a child, says she loves to laugh. Tara admits the government cuts the electricity off all the time so she can’t watch her favorite Bollywood movies and her disappointment in the government makes her sad sometimes. But in the end she says, “But I do not like to be sad. It is better to be happy.”

And so she is.

Proof that, no matter our circumstances, we can choose to be happy. There is joy to be found in the simplest of moments that each one of us experience every day. It’s just up to us to find it.

Images courtesy of digidreamgrafix and photostock at



Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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3 Responses

  1. Betty Eitner says:

    You are so right… “We choose to be happy”.
    After reading your post, I definitely choose to be happy – not sure it will be in Paraguay though 🙂

  1. May 7, 2015

    […] than this year’s Gallup’s Positive Experience Index poll, which I wrote about in my blog, The Happiest Country in the World. In that study, Latin America countries dominated the top 10 list with Paraguay coming in as number […]

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