Is Panama the happiest country in the world?

Last Tuesday evening, my wife and I planned to make the hour-and-a-half drive from our home in Cocle to Panama City for a Christmas party.

All was going fine until we hit a traffic jam about 30 minutes down the road.

It turned out that a tanker carrying diesel had flipped over on the highway and completely stopped traffic in both directions. The tanker was leaking diesel fuel all over the highway, and it was immediately clear that the cleanup was going to be a bitch.

This was going to be a long night.

We ended up sitting in traffic for six long hours as emergency crews cleaned up the mess.

But that’s not the interesting part of the story…

The fascinating thing was that no one got angry. There were no honking horns, no one pounding the dashboard in frustration, no raised voices… Even after 6 hours.

In fact, many people got out of their cars and actually talked to each other! Preposterous, you’re thinking, but I witnessed it with my own two eyes.

I had a great conversation with a homebuilder from the mountains of El Valle. Small groups of drivers congealed in discussion circles and shot the breeze.

We saw groups of people, who presumably didn’t even know each other, engaged in boisterous conversations, laughing, joking around, ribbing each other.

Believe it or not, others spread out on the side of the road and actually took naps.  People read books, caught up on email, checked their iPads.

No one was stressed out, and the six hour scene was about as tension free as you could imagine. The stranded drivers didn’t have a place they “had to be”. They were where they were, and they made the best of it.

I hadn’t given our six-hour traffic jam ordeal much thought until I read this recent Gallup poll.

The poll surveyed citizens from 148 countries around the world and asked them five questions:

Whether they experienced a lot of enjoyment the day before the survey; whether they felt respected, well-rested, whether they laughed and smiled a lot, and whether they recently did or learned something interesting.

The poll was designed to rank the “positiveness” factor of each country surveyed.

Panama ranked number one…

Latin America overall ranked as the most positive region in the world, being home to eight of the top 10 countries for positive emotions worldwide.

More interesting still, while Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita was ranked number one for positive emotions, Singapore, which ranks fifth in the world in GDP per capita, was ranked near the bottom.

As Gallup pointed out, higher income does not necessarily mean higher well being.

Yes, Panama can be an inconvenient and frustrating place at times.

Sometimes things don’t work. Electricity goes out. Trucks with 10,000 gallons of diesel spill on the road. The cable guy doesn’t show up for a couple weeks.

But maybe, just maybe, Panamanians have their heads screwed on straighter than many of us in the first world leading our frenetic, stress-filled lives.

With that, I just looked from my computer up and noticed this…

So, I think I’ll sign off, grab my board and go be happy for a few sets.

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4 Responses to "Is Panama the happiest country in the world?"

  1. Jeff says:

    Great article! Just one thing, Panama is actually number 57 in the GDP per capita ranking :) cheers

    • Coley says:

      Hey Jeff… Thanks for this, but curious of your source. I used the 90th in GDP per capita figure straight from the Gallup survey. Checking around, it looks like CIA World Fact Book lists Panama as 93rd in the world for GDP per capita. Where did you get the 57th in GDP figure?

  2. cil says:

    Thank you for posting something positive about panamanians. I am one, but no longer live there, however, I could just picture that care free way about them during the oil spill incident. I hope I don’t lose that quality.

  3. Marie_McGrath says:

    I really enjoyed reading this being a Panamanian and still living in Panama. I would indeed agree that Panamanians in general are very positive upbeat people :)

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