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What's the happiest country in the world? It depends on how you define happiness
New studies reveal competing visions for what defines our happiness. Europeans self report being happier, but Latin Americans smile and laugh more. - photo by JJ Feinauer
What's the happiest country in the world? The answer isn't as simple as the question.

According to the United Nations' most recent "World Happiness Report," it's Switzerland that come out on top. In fact, seven of the 10 happiest countries, according the U.N., are European.

To determine the happiness of each country, the U.N. looked at GDP, the degree to which citizens feel "social support," life expectancy, feelings of "freedom of choice," how often the citizens donate to charity, how prevalent corruption is in the country, and how often the citizens report doing things they find joy in.

"Overall, the model explains quite well the life evaluation differences within as well as between regions and for the world as a whole," according to the study. But the researchers at the U.N. were quick to point to another finding: Latin American countries were happier than their model predicted.

In fact, according to Jon Clifton, writing in Courier, Latin American countries represent a different view of happiness than what the U.N. looked for, and ultimately found in Switzerland.

"If you think happiness is how people see their lives then the Swiss are the happiest people in the world," Clifton wrote. "If you think happiness is defined by how people live their lives through experiences such as smiling and laughing, enjoyment and feeling treated with respect each day then the happiest people in the world are Latin Americans."

In fact, Clifton points out that a recent Gallup poll took the latter approach. When considering strictly how often citizens experience "positive emotions on a daily basis," Gallup found that Paraguay, not Switzerland, is the happiest country in the world.

In fact, the trend shifts completely from Europe to Latin America, with all of the top 10 on Gallup's poll being in Latin America.

"Money isn't everything in life," Gallup's Jon Clifton wrote when the poll was published. As Clifton points out, Guatemala ranks incredibly low in GDP, "yet when it comes to positive emotions, it ties for second."

"Regardless of whether you believe life evaluation or positive emotions should be the metric for happiness," Clifton wrote that while considering the differences, "what matters most is figuring out if peoples lives are going well and if they are, how we can replicate it in other societies."
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