Sometimes, when the “happy mood” playlist you put on abruptly ends, that poses the question: Is it just me, or is the world around me really getting angrier?
Rest assured: It’s not just you.
Last year, 22 percent of respondents across 142 countries polled by Gallup globally said they felt angry, which was two percentage points higher than in 2017 and set a record since the first such survey was conducted in 2006.
Globally, 39 percent of respondents said they faced “a lot of worry” — up one percentage point — and 31 percent even stated they “experienced a lot of physical pain.” Stress levels, however, slightly dropped from 37 percent two years ago to 35 percent last year, which is why the world stayed at its record-high level on the “World Negative Experience Index,” instead of getting even worse. The index is based on five measured negative emotions: anger, worry, sadness, stress and physical pain. Chad topped the list, while Taiwan had the fewest negative sentiments.
As is almost always the case with global polls, this survey has some limitations, including different perceptions of emotions that may be due to cultural differences. Especially in developed nations, respondents may rate their situation as bad, even though they would be considered lucky elsewhere.
Estonia, for instance, had some of the world’s lowest negative experiences, whereas fellow Baltic nation Lithuania ranked at the very top of negative experiences, next to Yemen and Afghanistan. Lithuania is part of the European Union and has been in the headlines for its “remarkable recovery” from financial crisis, as opposed to the devastating wars plaguing Afghanistan and Yemen. Those figures suggest that anger, sadness and worry are defined very differently around the world.
When the United Nations examined the Gallup polls for 2013, 2014 and 2015 about three years ago, it found that — regardless of those definitions — six key indicators explained why some countries were happier than others. Per capita domestic product certainly played a role, but wealth in some cases was trumped by other factors, such as healthy years of life expectancy, freedom and trust in business and government. Things that are hard to measure and thus often ignored by politicians also played a part: generosity, for instance, and having someone to rely on in times of crisis.
In fact, that latter aspect — social support — was among the three most important criteria, besides income and healthy life expectancy.
The fact that happiness and positive experiences are not tied only to financial rewards has prompted some countries, including New Zealand, to launch programs to boost social support and well-being as part of government budgets.
Those initiatives still lag far behind the seemingly effortless happiness of parts of Latin America, according to the latest Gallup poll, where financial resources might be scarce — but so are negative sentiments, on average.
“Latin Americans may not always rate their lives the best (like the Nordic countries), but they laugh, smile and experience enjoyment like no one else in the world,” wrote Jon Clifton, global managing partner at Gallup.