World’s happiest country: how did Panama overtake Denmark?
Where is the world’s happiest place? For years we have been told it is the dark, cold, but seriously egalitarian Scandinavia – with Denmark heading the majority of lists of our most contented countries. But suddenly there is a new leader in the satisfaction stakes: Panama.
A poll by Gallup and Healthways Global reports that the Central American country now has the most positive population, after 133,000 people from 135 countries were asked to rate their wellbeing in five categories: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.
The Central American country topped four of the categories, with neighbour Costa Rica closely following as the second happiest country. Denmark, for once, came a mournful third. So what makes people in Panama so cheery?
Cultural attache for Panama, Laura Montenegro, thinks it is down to the fact the country has a thriving economy and has maintained its traditional values. “Family bonds are very strong here, and on Sundays everyone still gets together,” she says. “So even when people are struggling they don’t feel alone. We have a very beautiful landscape too and even in Panama city you never feel too far from nature. We have a booming economy and financial stability. When the global financial crisis hit, Panama came out of it even better than before, because our banks had been very cautious.”
But what of the Danes? We have heard much about their society’s strengths – from state-subsidised childcare to having one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world. Yet despite this, younger Danes are less likely than their older countrymen to report themselves as “thriving”.
Guardian journalist and author of How to be Danish Patrick Kingsley thinks an increased sense of individuality among the young might be why the country is losing its happy crown.
“The Danes aren’t exactly all grinning from ear to ear … but they’re more contented than most. When Danes leave home in the morning, they don’t see many people who are markedly better off than themselves – and this breeds a sense of social solidarity, and by extension, contentedness.
“But the reason why so many Danish brands – from The Killing to Noma to the architect Bjarke Ingels – have recently made it big outside Denmark is because a younger generation of Danes are doing things differently. Perhaps this increased individuality, coupled with uncertainty about the future of Denmark’s welfare state, has threatened the traditional Danish formula for contentedness.”
Of course, they are still ahead of glum Great Britain, which is 76th on the list – mostly because we don’t like our jobs. “Though Britons are strong in financial wellbeing, they are much weaker in purpose wellbeing, suggesting that many workers do not enjoy what they do each day,” the report says.
But the situation is not hopeless. Now the UK’s economy is improving, employers might be more inclined to ensure staff are happy at work. Phew!
Courtesy of the Guardian