Does Money Make You Happy?

by Monica Santi


If you ever doubted the adage that money isn’t everything in life, here’s the proof: not one of the top 10 “happiest” countries is ranked in the top 10 of countries with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  How are the happiest countries identified? Annually, Gallup produces a study called the Positive Experience Index findings. According to the Gallup website report on the 2014 study that was released earlier this spring,* Gallup asked adults in 143 countries in 2014 if they had five positive experiences on the day before the survey. More than 70% of people worldwide said they experienced a lot of enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested and felt treated with respect. Additionally, 50% of people said they learned or did something interesting the day before the interview. Gallup compiles the “yes” responses from these five questions into a Positive Experience Index score for each country.

Pivot Group - ParaguaySo, which country is the happiest in the world? Paraguay came out on top scoring a whopping 89 points. In fact, all of the top ten countries are all located in Central or South America. In comparison, the United States landed in 15th place with a score of 79 points.

I lived in Paraguay for nearly two and a half years, so the findings of the Gallup study caught my attention. In my experience, Paraguayans are indeed very happy people. Why? I found myself pondering the question and have come up with three reasons I believe Paraguay tops the happiness charts.

  1. Tranquilo: Paraguay is a sub-tropical country. It is hot and humid for much of the year, and most people don’t have air conditioning. You have to take a siesta during the heat of the day. It just isn’t physically possible to work too much when the temperature is in the upper 90s and humid.
  2. Si dios quiere: One of the things that was hardest for me to get use to in Paraguay was the laissez faire attitude towards making plans for anything outside of church services, weddings, and funerals. Think you have a meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. on Tuesday?  Think again. When confirming any meeting or social plans with a Paraguayan, I would more often than not get the response, “Si dios quiere.” Loosely translated, it means, if God wants the meeting to happen, it will. If he doesn’t, it won’t.  Words can’t describe how this used to drive me nuts. I would plan and prepare for a meeting only to have it canceled, rescheduled, canceled and rescheduled again. I suppose the flip side of this is that Paraguayans simply don’t let things stress them out. If rain closes the roads and cancels an important meeting, you just don’t let it bother you.
  3. Visitors are always welcome: the social fabric of Paraguay is built around spending time with people while sharing yerba mate tea from a communal cup and metal straw. There was no need to have an invitation. I just showed up, clapped my hands outside the front gate, and waited to be invited in. I can’t remember the last time I stopped by someone’s house in the U.S. without arranging a date, time and purpose for the get together. This hit me the other day when I was walking my dog. I frequently pass a friend’s house whom I haven’t seen in a long time. I always look in the window hoping to catch her eye. If I were in Paraguay, I wouldn’t hesitate to knock on the door and ask if I could come in to visit and drink her tea. Perhaps if social norms and schedules allowed for impromptu visits, we would increase the happiness index of the U.S.

I image the happiness index of Americans would increase if we consistently took time every day to share a cup of tea with friends, take a siesta to recharge, and let people who cancel meetings and miss deadlines not bother us.


* Clifton, Jon. “Mood of the World Upbeat on International Happiness Day.” March 19, 2015.


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