On Wednesday, pollster Gallup unveiled its third Positive Experience Index (PEI) — meant to measure general happiness on a country-by-country basis. By happenstance, the Swiss business school IMD released its annual World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) the following day, providing an ad hoc opportunity for a comparison across two fundamentally different rankings: happiness and competitiveness.
The PEI’s headline finding was that a majority of adults worldwide are experiencing positive emotions despite the fact that conflicts and unrest dominate much of the news. And while the results from 138 countries show, according to Gallup, that higher incomes contribute to people’s positive emotions, the researchers said that this correlation weakens above certain income levels, such as $75,000 per year in the United States. One would thus expect the PEI to roughly line up with the WCY, which is dominated by rich nations.
And this happened in certain cases: some countries ranked rather high for their positive emotions as well as their competitiveness. Examples include Denmark, the UAE, Canada and Austria. Several Eastern European, central Asian and African countries — but also Egypt and Lebanon — ranked in the lower 20 percent for positive feelings (Lebanon placed 126 of 138 countries) but the majority of these apparent nations-of-malcontents were not included in the WCY’s 60 economies.
But most notably, quite a few countries showed up at the opposing ends of the scales for positive emotions and economic competitiveness. Venezuela — dead last in competitiveness — was tied with El Salvador and Honduras for the ninth-highest ranking in positive emotions, while Luxembourg, one of the consistent high performers on competitiveness, was alongside South Korea — deep in the lowest third of countries when measured for positive emotions.
If anything, the never-ending race for competitiveness and the equally persistent search for places with the happiest vibes appear to have much room for convergence. One fact, however, emerged as more than clear from the Gallup survey. In case anyone would have had doubts, a civil war is the fastest way to devastate your nation’s emotions. Between 2008 and 2011, Syria ranked at around 60 points. By 2013, it was at 36 points, 16 points below any other nation and at “an all-time low for any country Gallup has measured.”