While there is no shortage of international data on things like GDP, military expenditure, and employment, it is only recently that the more intangible aspects of a society, as life satisfaction and happiness, have been subject to similar collection and analysis. Obviously, the inherent subjectivity of such factors make them difficult to quantify, but polling a representative sample of a given population can still offer a good enough picture of how the average person of a given society feels about their lot in life.
Gallup is contributing to this effort by gathering data on, of all things, “how often residents feel positive or negative emotions on a day-to-day basis”. The Global Emotions Report is a survey of almost 153,000 people conducted across 148 countries, asking questions such as how often a person laughs or smile, and how often they are angry.
This might seem superfluous, but understanding the emotional state of a society can offer a crucial picture about its socioeconomic conditions and overall wellbeing.
As reported by the BBC, “Latin America holds the majority of the world’s most emotional countries, including the top placeholder, Bolivia, with Iraq, Cambodia and the Philippines also in the top ten. They news agency set out to ask residents — namely settled-in expats — of some countries to get their perspective on day to day life, and the answers were pretty insightful. Here is a rundown.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet circumstances have improved markedly over the recent years for its majority-indigenous and mestizo population, and its relative isolation has proved to be a boon to its people in some ways.
“People tend to be warm, open, curious and welcoming,” said Pauline Kucharew, originally from Canada, who lived in Sucre last year. That said, the country is less frequented by tourists, so many residents – especially in rural areas – are shy.
The lack of a developed tourism industry (unlike in neighbouring Peru) actually comes from a place of pride. Residents are curious about foreigners, but “they don’t necessarily like to put tourists ‘above’ them per se,” Kucharew said. This creates a unique culture where travellers who do come to Bolivia often stay for weeks or months, as opposed to days.
This is particular true in Sucre, one of the country’s safest cities, which has a small expat community of mainly English and Germans running bars, restaurants and language schools. As a university city, Sucre also has a lively nightlife scene while school is in session. “Sucre is a colonial city with a bit of a European feel, which makes it quite comfortable as an expat,” Kucharew said.
It was only a few decades ago that Cambodia experienced one of the bloodiest and most brutal genocides in modern history, resulting in the deaths of one-fifth of the population. But despite this recent and still lingering trauma, as well as continued political repression and poverty, Cambodians are a relatively cheerful lot, although there is an understandable generation gap in this regard.
Cambodians are very emotional people, but many people, especially the elder generations, have learnt to hide their real emotions,” said Kounila Keo, originally from Phnom Penh and author of the Blue Lady Blog. “Unfortunately they can’t explain or express those emotions to outsiders or the public.”
Despite this heavy psychological toll, residents are extremely friendly and welcoming to outsiders. “Everywhere I go, I meet people who say that they love Cambodia/Phnom Penh because of how kind and friendly Cambodians are,” Keo said. She also mentioned how easily Cambodians smile, especially when compared to people of other nationalities.
Colombian-Canadian Carolina Borras, who lived in Siem Reap last year and writes the Inspired Nomads blog, found the same to be true. “Even as I turned down the touting from tuk tuk drivers and others, they would smile,” she said. “I was able to create some friendships with locals simply because they were so open to the experience.
She explained that locals were always willing to make jokes and invite her to places and events. “We’d laugh and even lock arms together and dance at bars and clubs,” she said. It made me think of my time in Colombia, because that’s kind of how my cousins and I are together. Always animated with lots of energy.”
Although it was the only country outside of Latin America to be in the top five of the study, the BBC points out that this not too surprising, given the shared culture and history of centuries of Spanish colonization.
The country and its culture are a unique combination of east and west, and though Filipino and English are the official languages, it’s common to hear a wide range of accents and occasional Spanish words.
Though felt deeply, negative emotions in the Philippines aren’t always expressed easily or in a straightforward way. “Because we are emotional, we tend to hide if we don’t feel good about a person, things or events,” said Philippines native Ulysis Cababan who works for RapidVisa in Cebu City. “We tend to keep it in, or worse, we talk about it to other people, creating gossip. I think you are not from Philippines if you are not into chika-chika [gossiping].”
The culture is very family-oriented, hospitable and warm. “People smile and are always friendly to most strangers, especially expats,” Cababan said. Cebu City, the country’s first capital and located in the central islands, is a popular landing spot for expats, due to its commerce and its close proximity to both the beaches and the mountains.
Like Bolivia, Guatemala is a poor country with a predominantly indigenous population. However, it has also experience a fresh history of genocide and civil strife, which only recently ended. It is also one of the most violent countries in the world in terms of criminal homicide, yet most inhabitants seem to endure these circumstances with great emotional fortitude.
“People in Guatemala are very welcoming and expressive,” she said – even to the point where they easily share intimate personal details with newcomers.
“One afternoon roaming around Antigua, I met a lady weaving textiles. Even though she initially approached me to sell something, in less than 30 seconds, the conversation turned personal and emotional,” she explained. “In a five-minute chat, the conversation covered such a spectrum of emotions! From the time she almost faced death, to when her daughter had her first kid, to these days when she thinks living in Antigua is simply a blessing. To be honest, I can’t picture such an in-depth and emotional conversation with someone I just met in many other parts of the world.
The country’s emotions are also reflected in the rich colours seen in day-to-day life; decoration and clothing are never too simple, Quiroga said. The fabrics, style of dress and brightly painted houses express this strong point of view.
It will surprise no one that Iraq should be among the most emotional countries in the world negatively — few nations have suffered as much daily trauma and violence, much of it random and unpredictable, and therefore all the more terrifying. As one would expect following over a decade of widespread death and injury, a morose attitude pervades everyday life and interaction, including entertainment media.
“Back in 2009, before all the destruction, I visited Syria and was amused to learn that Syrians call sad music ‘Iraqi music’, because our music is almost always sad,” said Wael Al-Sallami, originally from Babylon, Iraq, and now a software engineer at Weebly in San Francisco. “Sadness, more so than happiness, is deeply ingrained within the culture.”
This surfaces in mourning rituals, particularly in the middle and southern parts of the country where a majority of the Shia population lives. Factors like the rule of Saddam Hussein and foreign involvement have also led to challenging emotions.
That said, poetry and a good sense of humour are both defining aspects of Middle Eastern and Arab countries, said Al-Sallami, and while Egypt may take the ultimate crown in the humour department, he ranks Iraq as one of the highest for its poetry.
Westerners who move to Iraq should settle in the Kurdish part of the country. “The Kurds manage their own regional government and maintain a fairly secure part of the country,” Al-Sallami said. “It’s beautiful there too, very green and quite pleasant actually.”
The emotional resilience of Iraqis, and so many other societies across the world that have endured, or continue to endure, great trauma and suffering, is incredible. The vast majority of humans have always had to adapt to very difficult circumstances, and examining how they cope and relate to the world around them — be it positively or negatively — confers some very important and inspiring lessons and observations.