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Happiest People On Planet Live In Latin America, Gallup Poll Suggests

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN via The Huffington Post

MEXICO CITY — The world’s happiest people aren’t in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren’t in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn’t make the top 10.

A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world’s 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.

“In Guatemala, it’s a culture of friendly people who are always smiling,” said Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor. “Despite all the problems that we’re facing, we’re surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all.”

Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.

In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.

Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.

It’s a paradox with serious implications for a relatively new and controversial field called happiness economics that seeks to improve government performance by adding people’s perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a national well-being program in 2010 as part of a pledge to improve Britons’ lives in the wake of the global recession. A household survey sent to 200,000 Britons asks questions like “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world’s most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.

Some experts say that’s a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.

“My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases,” said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank

“What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way,” said Lora, a native of Colombia, the 11th most-positive country.

For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. For others at the bottom, Armenia at the second lowest spot, Georgia and Lithuania, misery is something a little more ephemeral.

“Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here,” said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. “Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation’s history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful.”

The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook. Latin America’s biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list.

Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures’ overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn’t undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.

“Those expressions are a reality, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to quantify,” he said. “I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries.”

Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.

Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.

Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but “happy about my family.”

“Overall, I’m happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world,” he said. “We’re Caribbean people, we’re people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more.”

Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren’t looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.

“We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There’s hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you’re always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here,” he said.

In Paraguay, tied with Panama as the most-positive country while doing far worse than Panama by objective measures, street vendor Maria Solis said tough economic conditions were no reason to despair.

“Life is short and there are no reasons to be sad because even if we were rich, there would still be problems,” she said while selling herbs used for making tea. “We have to laugh at ourselves.”

Go HERE for  a list of the countries that made the top 20.

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Here’s a good reminder list courtesy of hostelworld.com.
20 Tips for Solo Travellers
Dec 12, 2012-Our latest guest post is by Janice Waugh, publisher of Solotravelerblog.com, the blog for those who travel alone. She is also moderator the Solo Travel Society on Facebook which has over 8,000 members. She has been a go-to person on solo travel for CNN, the Oprah Blog, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times and more. A solo-travel specialist, Janice is also the author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook which is now in its 2nd edition.

People are traveling solo more and more. It’s safe and makes your trip just that, yours. You do what you want when you want. Follow these tips to have a great time.

1. Plan in advance
Do some advance planning. You don’t need a detailed plan but you should know, for the first night at least, where you’re going to stay. Book your hostel before you leave.

2. Pack light
Pack light so that you can manage your luggage by yourself with ease. One carry-on, a suitcase or backpack, should suffice whether you’re out for one week or three.

3. Try to arrive during the day
Plan to arrive during daylight so you’re not trying to find your way through an unfamiliar city in the dark.

4. Mix with others
Connect with other travellers. The common rooms and lounges of hostels are great places meet short-term friends as well as pick up excellent travel advice.

5. Meet the locals
Connect with locals. Many cities have free local tour guides but you can also connect with a local through sites like Meetup.com and 5W – Women Welcoming Women World Wide.

6. Watch the world around you
Take the time to observe how people interact, and how things work. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, on a park bench, or just killing time you can learn how to use public transit, whether to pay your bill at your table or at the counter, how to tip or how to hail a cab and much more.

7. Open up!
Learn how to talk to strangers. Smile and start a conversation. Be curious and ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions.

8. Go out and enjoy yourself
Go out in the evenings. Go to pubs and bars and grab a seat at the bar. Go to concerts and the theatre. It’s all possible solo.

9. Don’t be put off by dining alone
Enjoy dining alone. Go to restaurants with communal tables or counters. Ask a local to order for you to start a conversation.

10. Sign up for courses
If you’re in one place for a while, connect with others by taking language or cooking classes. Whatever interests you. Also, visit the same café, fruit stall…every day and get to know the people.

11. Get off the beaten track
If you want to meet other travelers, go off the beaten path. Travelers that find each other where there are few tourists are more inclined to talk to each other. Plus, you will likely have something in common.

12. Go on organised tours
Break up long trips with organized tours. You’ll enjoy the company and a chance to let someone else take care of all the details.

13. Always have the essentials
Carry the essentials with you when you head out for the day. Have the name of the place you’re staying on a piece of paper in the local language. Have a copy of your emergency contacts and your documents on you.

14. Store important items in one place
Always keep your most important items in the same place and have a simple check. For me it’s passport, wallet, camera and phone. Those are the items I check when I feel the need.

15. Take your own photos
Learn to take your own photo. Your friends will be far more interested in your photos when you return if there are pictures of you amongst them.

16. Save on phone charges
Consider buying an unlocked cell phone so that you can buy a SIM card for your phone in each country as you travel. This will save you lots of money.

17. Use Skype
Load Skype onto your phone so that you can connect with friends and family for free when you have access to the Internet.

18. Take advantage of other useful apps
Download useful apps to your phone such as a GPS, a translator, a currency converter and some travel guides.

19. Avoid dark alleys
Know the value of being seen. A public place is always safer than a private place.

20. Trust your instinct
Be aware of your surroundings and listen to your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, leave.

21. I add to take a copy of your passport, and store it in a separate location from the real one

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Coelho’s Travel tips….words to travel by

I realized very early on that, for me, traveling was the best way of learning. I still have a pilgrim soul, and I thought that I would use this blog to pass on some of the lessons I have learned, in the hope that they might prove useful to other pilgrims like me.

1. Avoid museums. This might seem to be absurd advice, but let’s just think about it a little: if you are in a foreign city, isn’t it far more interesting to go in search of the present than of the past? It’s just that people feel obliged to go to museums because they learned as children that traveling was about seeking out that kind of culture. Obviously museums are important, but they require time and objectivity – you need to know what you want to see there, otherwise you will leave with a sense of having seen a few really fundamental things, except that you can’t remember what they were.

2. Hang out in bars. Bars are the places where life in the city reveals itself, not in museums. By bars I don’t mean nightclubs, but the places where ordinary people go, have a drink, ponder the weather, and are always ready for a chat. Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people. If someone strikes up a conversation, however silly, join in: you cannot judge the beauty of a particular path just by looking at the gate.

3. Be open. The best tour guide is someone who lives in the place, knows everything about it, is proud of his or her city, but does not work for any agency. Go out into the street, choose the person you want to talk to, and ask them something (Where is the cathedral? Where is the post office?). If nothing comes of it, try someone else – I guarantee that at the end of the day you will have found yourself an excellent companion.

4. Try to travel alone or – if you are married – with your spouse. It will be harder work, no one will be there taking care of you, but only in this way can you truly leave your own country behind. Traveling with a group is a way of being in a foreign country while speaking your mother tongue, doing whatever the leader of the flock tells you to do, and taking more interest in group gossip than in the place you are visiting.

5. Don’t compare. Don’t compare anything – prices, standards of hygiene, quality of life, means of transport, nothing! You are not traveling in order to prove that you have a better life than other people – your aim is to find out how other people live, what they can teach you, how they deal with reality and with the extraordinary.

6. Understand that everyone understands you. Even if you don’t speak the language, don’t be afraid: I’ve been in lots of places where I could not communicate with words at all, and I always found support, guidance, useful advice, and even girlfriends. Some people think that if they travel alone, they will set off down the street and be lost for ever. Just make sure you have the hotel card in your pocket and – if the worst comes to the worst – flag down a taxi and show the card to the driver.

7. Don’t buy too much. Spend your money on things you won’t need to carry: tickets to a good play, restaurants, trips. Nowadays, with the global economy and the Internet, you can buy anything you want without having to pay excess baggage.

8. Don’t try to see the world in a month. It is far better to stay in a city for four or five days than to visit five cities in a week. A city is like a capricious woman: she takes time to be seduced and to reveal herself completely.

9. A journey is an adventure. Henry Miller used to say that it is far more important to discover a church that no one else has ever heard of than to go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel with two hundred thousand other tourists bellowing in your ear. By all means go to the Sistine Chapel, but wander the streets too, explore alleyways, experience the freedom of looking for something – quite what you don’t know – but which, if you find it, will – you can be sure – change your life.

by Paulo Coelho on July 3, 2012

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