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The world is significantly unhappier, Gallup poll finds

Latin American countries are consistently the happiest places, the survey finds.
Four young adult friends kayaking on Lake Atitlan, GuatemalaGetty Images

The world is unhappier than it has been in recent history, even if people are still finding time to laugh and get a good night’s sleep, according to the latest poll by Gallup.

Americans fall in the middle of the chart, but nearly half of people in the U.S. say they are feeling stressed and 40 percent are worried, the annual survey found.

"Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it," Gallup's managing editor Mohamed Younis wrote in a foreword to the report.

As in recent years, Latin Americans appear to be the happiest people in the world, led once again by Paraguay. Residents of Yemen and Afghanistan, devastated by war, poverty, disease and hunger, are the unhappiest, the poll of people living in more than 140 countries found.

“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,” the report from Gallup reads. “The only countries outside this region that top this list are Canada, Iceland, Indonesia and Uzbekistan.”

As for Americans, Lisa Carusone, a fitness coach in Weston, Massachusetts, seems typical.

"I am aware that a catastrophic illness could leave me burdened with debt, and choosing how best to manage my health insurance decisions now, while hedging against future uncertainty, creates stress for me," Carusone said.

"I will add that while I am not unhappy, I am stressed. I see those as two different things."

For its annual happiness index, Gallup researchers speak face to face with 1,000 people in each country.

They ask questions such as:

  • Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
  • Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  • Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday …How about physical pain worry, sadness, stress, anger?

The answers they get are worked up into an “index” for each country. “Scores worldwide ranged from a high of 85 in Paraguay to a low of 48 in Afghanistan,” the report reads.

Globally, negative feelings or experiences were more common in 2017 than in 2016.

“More than one in three people said they experienced a lot of worry (38 percent) or stress (37 percent), and three in 10 experienced a lot of physical pain (31 percent),” the report reads.

“At least one in five experienced sadness (23 percent) or anger (20 percent). 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.”

For Americans, the good news is that we feel treated with respect, or at least 92 percent do. Most Americans have had at least one recent positive experience:

  • 69 percent say they are well-rested
  • 82 percent have smiled or laughed
  • 83 percent say they’ve experienced enjoyment
  • 61 percent say they’ve learned or done something interesting

But a significant number of Americans report negative experiences, also.

  • 49 percent reported recent stress
  • 29 percent report physical pain
  • 40 percent report worry
  • 23 percent report sadness
  • 17 percent report anger

Americans feel as stressed as people living in the Central African Republic, where civil wars and poverty, as well as physical pain, all contribute to unhappiness.

Iraqis are the angriest people in the world right now, with 50 percent of the population feeling anger, the survey showed.

The findings fit in with other recent studies, including one from the American Psychological Association, which did a survey one year ago.

“More than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” the APA said in a statement.

“When asked to think about the nation this year, nearly six in 10 adults (59 percent) report that the current social divisiveness causes them stress. A majority of adults from both political parties say the future of the nation is a source of stress.”