MEXICO CITY - The world's happiest people aren't in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren't in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy.
A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.
Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, such as Guatemala, torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality. It ranks seventh in positive emotions.
"In Guatemala, it's a culture of friendly people who are always smiling," said Luz Castillo, 30, a surfing instructor. "Despite all the problems that we're facing, we're surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all."
Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting, and felt feelings of enjoyment.
In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.
The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world.
"My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases," said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank
"What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way," said Lora, of Colombia, the 11th most positive country.
For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, such as Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Haiti. For others - Armenia at the second-lowest spot, Georgia, and Lithuania - misery is something a little more ephemeral.
"Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here," said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. "Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals."