These Latin American countries rank among the happiest places on earth

Latin Americans, on a whole, seem to be a much happier crowd than folks living in the United States, a new global survey suggests. And the same is true even for those living in countries known for violent drug wars and sputtering economies.

The Annual End of Year Survey for 2015 by Gallup and WIN, an international market-research association, asked people in 68 countries whether they’re happy with their lives and if they feel optimistic about their nation’s economic situation.

The results might come as a surprise, especially to people in the United States, who tend to think they have things better off than the rest of the world.

But maybe not. The happiest nation in the world, according to the survey’s ranking, is Colombia, which topped the charts with an impressive 87% of respondents saying they’re happy. Only 2% of Colombians say they’re unhappy. That puts the South American nation’s “net happiness score” at 85%.


Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 8.36.00 PMSource: Annual End of Year Survey Gallup/WIN

Colombians aren’t the only ones smiling. Argentina, Ecuador, Panama and Mexico also made the top 10 list of “happiest” countries on earth, with net happiness scores above 70%, according to the survey. Several other Latin American countries that have claimed to be the happiest in the region—specifically Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic—were excluded from the survey, for reasons unknown.

In the United States, where per capita income is five times higher than in Mexico, 59% of people surveyed said they’re happy with their lives, while 16% grumbled that they’re not, giving the U.S. a middle-of-the pack “net happiness” score of 43%.

The creators of this survey, for which more than 60,000 people around the world were interviewed, didn’t provide an analysis of their findings. However, at quick glance their seems to be little correlation between a country’s wealth and its happiness.

Though some wealthy and stable countries made the top 10 (including Saudi Arabia and Iceland), small economies like Fiji and Vietnam also ranked high.

The second part of the survey, which asked people whether they feel optimistic about their country’s economic prospects, shows an interesting divide between happiness and economy.

For example, though Colombia ranked high in happiness, only 26% of its citizens said they feel optimistic about their country’s economic prospects for 2016. And 29% even said they’re pessimistic about this year’s economic forecast.

Colombia’s economy has been slowing over the past year due to falling oil and commodities prices. Peace talks between the government and the leftist FARC guerrillas have created some political and economic uncertainty, but could also lead to new investment opportunities for some businesses who have been deterred for years by war.

In other countries, however, there appears to be a tighter correlation between happiness levels and local economic and political events. Iraq, for example, is the unhappiest country in the world, for reasons that don’t need too much guesswork or explanation. Ravaged by ISIS and falling crude prices, Iraq is one of the few gloomy countries in the world where more people said they’re unhappy than happy, giving the country a net happiness score of -12%, according to this survey.

Latin America for its part, had no shortage of problems, including violence, economic chaos in some countries, immigration, and serious corruption scandals. But in general, folks seem to be looking on the bright side of life. The region’s overall happiness score of 63%, well above North America’s 44% score, which includes somewhat satisfied Canada.

So perhaps it’s the weather, or the laid-back approach to life, the focus on family, or the happiness of just surviving in places were daily life can be quite unpredictable. Or maybe it’s the soccer.

Yeah, it’s probably that.