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2017 a Record Year of Unhappiness Around the World, Survey Shows

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 9/12/2018 Sintia Radu
Afghan victims receive treatment at a hospital the day after a suicide attack targeting protesters in Mohmand Dara district of Nangarhar Province, in Jalalabad on September 12, 2018. - The death toll from a suicide attack on Afghan protesters has soared to 68, officials said on September 12 as violence flares across the country ahead of elections and a key Islamic holy day. (Photo by NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images): Afghan victims of a suicide attack receive treatment in Jalalabad on Sept. 12. © NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES) Afghan victims of a suicide attack receive treatment in Jalalabad on Sept. 12.

In a world dominated by the rise of nationalist movements, the questioning of alliances and fears of political instability, new research that ranks nations by emotions shows that on a global level, people’s negative feelings in 2017 reached record levels.

More than 1 in 3 people said they worried (38 percent) or dealt with stress (37 percent), according to the 2018 Global Emotions Report, released on Wednesday by Washington, D.C.-based analytics and consulting firm Gallup. Additionally, slightly more than 3 in 10 suffered from physical pain (31 percent), according to the report's results. More than 20 percent said they had been sad or angry.

“Overall worry and stress levels increased two percentage points from the previous year, while sadness and physical pain were each up one point. Experiences of anger remained unchanged,” the report's authors said.

Latin American countries, however, remain the happiest on the planet.

The annual Gallup Global Emotions Report reveals that citizens of countries such as Paraguay, Colombia and El Salvador report the highest number of positive experiences throughout the day. The top 10 is dominated by other countries in Latin America, such as Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Honduras. Only three nations outside the region finished in the top 10: Canada, Iceland, and Indonesia.

“The high percentages reporting positive emotions in Latin America at least partly reflects the cultural tendency in the region to focus on life’s positives,” according to the report's authors. The figures also reflect the importance of family ties and a strong social network for a person’s well-being, experts say.

This week's Gallup results build on the organization's findings last year that showed people in three Central American countries said satisfaction with their lives had improved dramatically in the past decade.

Finishing lowest in the positive experience ranking are Afghanistan and Yemen, two nations torn by unrest and war that also reported their lowest scores in the last decade. Afghanistan’s presence in particular is justified; Fighting has plagued the South Asian nation for the past four decades. NATO forces invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S., and both the Taliban and Islamic State group routinely carry out bombings in the country that target security forces and government officials – the latest a Tuesday bombing that has claimed at least 68 lives and injured another 165, one of the deadliest attacks this year.

Despite recent attempts to renew peace talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan today is the site of America's longest-running conflict.

The Gallup results are important because economic indicators by themselves cannot fully depict the state of a nation and its people. Historically, they have done a poor job at predicting upcoming events, such as riots and revolutions stemming from people's unhappiness regardless of their financial well-being, the authors of the Gallup report say.

“The gross domestic product (GDP) doesn’t tell you everything or how people are feeling on a daily basis," says Julie Ray, Gallup World Poll chief writer and editor. "In Egypt for instance, ahead of the Arab Uprising, you saw an upper trend in their GDP growth but their life evaluations were sinking. So there's something that people’s daily life experiences and how they feel and think of their life can tell you that GDP can't, and leaders need to pay attention to (this)."

The Gallup research involved surveys of 1,000 people at least 15 years old from 147 countries. The surveys were conducted through more than 150,000 phone and face-to-face interviews, and respondents were asked about five positive experiences they may have had on the day before the research. Around 70 percent of subjects mentioned they enjoyed their day, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested, or were treated with respect. Less than half said they learned something new or did something interesting.

The research also analyzed people’s negative emotions and scored 146 nations by the number of such experiences their citizens said they had.

People in the Central African Republic scored highest in negative emotions, also reporting a record high score when compared with all such Gallup surveys in the past decade. The results are a reflection of the country's political instability and fights between armed groups that have forced many out of their homes, the report adds. Also in the top 10 are other areas torn by conflict and unrest, such as Iraq, South Sudan, Chad, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Iran, Niger, the Palestinian Territories, Liberia, Madagascar and Uganda.

Countries reporting the lowest negative experience level – not to be correlated with nations ranking high in the positive experience ranking – are Eastern European nations such as Belarus and Bulgaria, the island nation of Mauritius, the Western European country the Netherlands, and the South Pacific island nation of New Zealand.

The Gallup survey results follow a U.N. study released at the beginning of this year that assessed the levels of happiness of citizens and immigrants in more than 100 countries. Finland edged out Norway to finish atop the 2018 World Happiness Report, while the U.S. was ranked 18th.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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