Latin America's happiest nations


Miss World contestant Venezuala's Andreina Brieto.


Anna Zieminski

Warmth matters for happiness, wealth doesn't.

At least that's what a recent survey on happiness in Latin America concludes.

The survey, conducted by the marketing analysis firm Cimagroup, measured the level of happiness in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, reports the Santiago Times.

Venezuela came out on top, and happiness tended to be greater in warmer climates. Peru took last place. The richest country (Chile) was second-to-last, tied with the poorest country (Bolivia).

The United Nations Human Development Index ranks Chile as the best country in which to live in all of Latin America. Yet the country has unusually high rates of depression:

Workers endure long work hours — officially 45 hours a week, but often more. And for blue-collar workers, the stressful daily routine in the capital is compounded by the several extra hours they spend getting to and from their jobs on overcrowded buses or the metro. Chileans regularly complain that the time and energy left for family life, recreation and even sex is far too scarce. 

Another recent study looked at the happiest emerging nations. It found that Brazil was the happiest of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

On a scale of 0 to 10, Brazil has a happiness index of 8.7, South Africa and Russia 5.2, and China and India 4.5, according to the study by the Getulio Vargas Foundation's Centre for Social Policies with support from the Inter-American Development Bank. 

The study credits Brazil's good cheer to its success at pulling millions out of poverty.

So is Latin America in fact a very happy place to live? A 2010 Happy Planet Index by the New Economics Foundation found that eight of the top 10 happiest countries are Latin American, with the other two being Jamaica and Vietnam.

It certainly runs counter to traditional thought. Jonathan Glennie asks in the Guardian whether there's a convincing explanation:

Colombia, land of the drugs lords and where a footballer got shot for scoring an own goal during the World Cup. A country of guerrilla and paramilitary terrorism, massive internal displacement of civilians (second only to Sudan), of trade unionist murder (more are murdered in Colombia than in the rest of the world put together), and one of the happiest countries in the world, in most rankings.

You will have to have visited Colombia to understand how this can be so. You will have to met the people who have suffered tragedy beyond what most of us can imagine, and yet who smile and dance, not forgetting, but getting through. That may sound like a romantic cliché, but I have seen it for myself.

I've seen it, but that doesn't make me any clearer as to why it is so. What is it that makes people in Latin America so happy? Culture? Weather? Spirituality? These things and more. Who knows?

For more on the economics of happiness, check out this session from the Aspen Ideas Festival:

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephaniegarlow