Colombia: The Happiest Country in the World?

And so, in a survey conducted by the WIN/ Gallup International Association, Colombia was officially named as the happiest country in the world by the end of 2012. Apparently nearly 56,000 people were interviewed and Colombia came out trumps regarding a scale of happiness.

My initial reaction was to gawk at this survey and ask just how scientific could it really be? And, what cross section of society was interviewed. There is just too much to factor in to a survey of this kind to truly take anything worthwhile or meaningful from the data.

Forum comment

Forum comment

“As far as you are concerned, do you personally feel happy, unhappy or neither happy nor unhappy about your life?”

I am Happy in Colombia

I live in Colombia and I am very happy, not only for being here, I am happily married, am running a successful business, have food on my plate, can afford to travel, am returning to study and am in good health. These for me are fine levels and measures of happiness and neither in Bogota nor in Mompós do I have my rubbish efficiently collected. This is something which grates and bothers me since I am diligent and as they say here juicioso in paying my bills. But I remain happy.

I get the feeling that this survey was conducted in Colombia on September 12, 2012 the day after the Cafeteros recorded a memorable 3-1 win in a World Cup Qualifying match over Chile. But then, if this were the case, the figures and the census would be even more askew.

An Embera baby on a public bus in Bogota

An Embera baby on a public bus in Bogota

How many IDPs were interviewed, how many of Embera Katio tribe living in the former coffee bodegas alongside the Estacion de la Sabana were included, were the opinions of those taken as they lined up for treatment at the CAMAD, did the villages of Toribio and Corinto in the department of Cauca have a say? Of course these are idle negativisms, but there’s a more poignant theme behind this.

Colombians are happy, they need no justification for a party, a celebration, to dance, to turn the music up to levels of distortion to render vallenato music even more unlistenable, they will share a joke, cajole with one another, be festive and above all a Colombian can laugh at himself. But, this Gallup poll seems slightly off balance, my feeling is that more than happy, a Colombian, in spite of everything, is proud.

Politicians will be the first to try and grasp this new found “happiness index” and use it to their own gain. But, ask a Colombian how they feel about the present and even the future in a political perspective, most will shrug and have a negative or indifferent opinion towards politicians. The feeling is that these politicians have always found a way to wriggle money from the public coffers and this will only continue. Happiness is absent and is replaced by resignation.

And, while a Colombian is happy or proud, we cannot allow a poll of this type to gloss over the bigger picture in the country. This is a fantastic way to bury bad news, use a diversionary tactic to draw the nation’s gaze elsewhere and feed us with a positive spin on an otherwise fairly negative outlook. This “happiness index” almost falls into the same useless category of terms such as saying that a hotel is “5 star”, when really this doesn’t mean anything more. While I’m on the subject, “sustainable”, “ecological”, “urban” and “boutique hotel” also fall by the vernacular wayside. They mean nothing, just as you should take nothing from this survey.

How very unoriginal and boring

How very unoriginal and boring

Then, there’s a further point. Just as being a resident of New Jersey in the United States opens you up for merciless ribbing from other states, being a Colombian comes with a great deal of well publicized baggage. And when a poll of this nature is released, the trolls who creep about virtually leaving their tracks on online forums emerge to pollute the internet with their vile and uninformed diatribes.

Colombians are happy, scratch this happiness and it gives way to pride. But, the happiest country on the planet? Maybe, or perhaps better served as “the happiest planet of those surveyed.” It will mean a great deal to Colombia to receive such an accolade, but in reality, it means nothing at the end of it all. This is a hollow yet significant victory for Colombia. A country in conflict can appear at the top of a “happiness index” above the likes of Malaysia, Brazil and erm Azerbaijan.

I'm left speechless by the idiocy of this forum post

I’m left speechless by the idiocy of this forum post

But being recognized as the happiest country in the world at the end of 2012, inasmuch as it is a nothing accolade, is incredibly important to Colombia. For this is a country of precious few positive plaudits in the mainstream and international press and this is an accolade all the same.

We’ll take it.

15 thoughts on “Colombia: The Happiest Country in the World?

  • Interesting take on the news that was recently just published. I don't think any country is perfect, and as a resident of Bogota (originally from Texas), I also believe that there are major problems that still haunt this country.

    When looking at the statistics, it is quite possible that they interviewed the displaced, the people of Cauca, tribes, etc (and quite possible that they did not). But in my experience thus far in this amazing country, there are more happy people rather than unhappy (and, this is coming from the capital, which is plagued with rain, traffic, trash, among others).

    What country do you think should have won the happiest of 2012?

    • Eric, your comments are great, and I agree wholly with it all. I have no idea what would be the happiest planet, I have never been to Azerbaijan or Malaysia. Brazil was happy, but certainly there were massive inequalities.

  • I think you're spot, spot on with this blog Richard. Especially the third paragraph. I gawped when I heard this news the first time. Seems like a silly end-of-year free headline grabber for Gallup, safe in the knowledge that the media will print mostly anything they survey as gospel.

    What forums did you take the screen shots from? They are hilarious.

    • Thanks Gareth! The screenshots all came from the comments on Colombia Reports and the Huffington Post, there are some real idiots out there! But, we can rest assured and sleep comfortably in the knowledge that these people will never step foot in Colombia. Imagine thinking that everyone is happy here due to the fact that everyone is permanently snorting cocaine!

  • I have seen many of these so-called happiness indexes. Colombia is always in the top 10. and this is the 2nd one where they rank #1. 18 National holidays and one of the longest Christmas breaks in the world help greatly.as a Peinsacola gringo with Colombian wife and roots in Bucaramang, I can certainly say the people are far more healthy, relaxed, better-looking, and yes "simply happier" in disposition than any country I have travelled in. Viva Colombia!

  • It's difficult understand happiness when you are not a happy person yourself. It's like trying to understand a good piece of music when you are not trained yourself. As an amateur you can still enjoy music, but not understand it well. Happiness has to do a lot with the future and perceptions of it. Beleiving that "things" will be nice and better makes you happy.

    Consumerism and its associated advertising create a lot of unhappy people. Ads show unreal people whom you and no one will never match. This results in lots of sales and frustrated people at the same time. On the other hand, the ability to think that you'll be fine or better and realising that other people around you are achoeving this will make you happy.

    I'm blessed to being raised up in Colombia. When I travel abroad, I enjoy my experience while friends brought up in wealthier but unhappier countries moan and complain with a feeling of superiority about everything, noise, innefciency, traffic, trash and the rest. Just relax, let go and enjoy.

  • I love the fact that Colombia has not been spoiled yet but corporations,
    Yes it's started with the likes of Carrefour but at least you can go to different city's & regions with differing city centres, you won't get the spicy pickled onions from Santander in bogota for example
    In the UK it does not matter wether you are at lands end or John o'groats every town has the same identity
    In Colombia family is important, yes we work hard but there is still a work-life balance,
    Money, ressision, the high taxes and peer pressure in th UK has brought people down
    In Colombia some of the happiest people I have met have very little but make the best out of what is delt to them
    I guess the survey didn't have too many local bus & taxi drivers from Bogota in it

    • Interesting points, although I feel that living here I can see the work/ life balance tilting away from the traditional values of which you mention as the big cities become more internationalized and global.

  • I'm Colombian! I am happy no matter what, no matter where, I have never done any kind of drugs! ANY! I have been to different countries and all I can say is that Colombians are happy people! This survey was not about what do you think about …or questions like that, It was something quite simple like: Are you a happy person? So for all those who think that all Colombians are happy because they do drugs, let me just tell you that you are WRONG!!!! We have a happy spirit a happy soul. Colombia, and Colombians know that, is not the best country in the world, we are far away from that, but we are strong, happy and proud. " I met someone who was so poor, so poor, that the only thing he had was MONEY"

  • Spot on Richard. Alongside the pride, I think the motivation for many Colombians surveyed to answer that they were spectacularly happy, is that making negative comments about anything in Colombia is virtually considered a social crime. Especially if the comments are made to a foreigner or a Gallup poll.

    For me Colombians have learned the hard way to always look on the bright side. This allows the average Colombian to work 2 jobs, 16 hours a day, be massively exploited by both their employers and their government, have no medical benefits, insurance or personal security, suffer insane traffic jams, awful overcrowded public transport, poor service, unreliable, overpriced public utilities, massive corruption, in particular in the police force and all levels of government, and still walk around smiling and ignoring their miserable circumstances. It takes the English stiff upper lip concept to another level.

    Some would call it ignorance but I see it as fortitude and a willingness to accept the situation you find yourself in and make the best of it. I think it comes from a long history of suffering and injustice, it is now almost born into Colombian people like a form of evolution. Evidence of this is that Colombian children, who unlike their western counter parts, grown up with very little in the form of material wealth, seem to me to be far happier than the current generation of brats growing up in wealthy societies around the world.

    The down side of this "accept your circumstances" attitude is that it is an impediment to progress, nobody complains so nothing changes but I guess if Colombians are happy, even if they are practising a form of self-delusion, does it really matter? Not to them.

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