Measuring anguish

Pollster Gallup looks at the unhappiest places on Earth

Remember happiness? When the Positive Experience Index (PEI) of 138 countries was released last month by global opinion surveying organization Gallup, Executive noted how Syria’s war had wrecked havoc on its people’s positive emotions and sense of happiness.

Now we have the pain test. In its just-released Negative Experience Index (NEI), Gallup measured the prevalence of negative emotions, and it shows a very clear and unenviable clustering of bad vibes in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the 2013 NEI, half of the ten most emotionally downtrodden countries — where people told surveyors they felt anger, stress, pain and worry the day prior — were in MENA. The rest of this unenviable top ten list was comprised of one country in each Asia and Africa, and three jurisdictions in Europe’s eastern Mediterranean.

Iraq led the ranking on negative experiences, followed by Iran. Egypt and Greece were tied in third place, ahead of Syria. Lebanon made the tenth spot in the NEI, where a higher rank indicates that more people felt negative emotions.

In similar fashion, the PEI had ranked countries by translating the number of ‘yes’ answers to positive-emotions questions into an index score. The two indices are not, however, inverses of each other. Syria’s fifth place finish in the NEI did not mirror its last place finish in the PIE; similarly, while Iraqis reported more negative emotions than anyone else, they also reported more positive emotions than those in 23 other locations.

In presenting the NEI findings, Gallup placed a strong emphasis on Iran’s lack of happiness, opining that “Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods.”

But while Iran ranked highly on the NEI, the Islamic republic actually scored 63 points in the PEI, placing it in the lower middle field of countries and tied with Luxembourg, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Czech Republic. It clearly underperformed on a global scale, but within the region compared favorably to both Syria and Iraq.

In short, emotions are complicated — and at times, seemingly contradictory.

Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years.

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