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John Ibbitson: 80 per cent of Canadians have good reason to be happy

In the midst of this Christmas season, some good news: Eighty per cent of Canadians had a great day, yesterday.

So says Gallup. The pollster asked people in 148 countries a series of questions: whether they felt rested the day before, whether they had been treated with respect, whether they had laughed or smiled, whether they had learned something interesting; whether they had experienced certain positive feelings, and whether they had enjoyed the day.

The 10 countries whose citizens responded most positively to these questions were all developing nations.

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Eight of the 10 were in Latin America. Though economically struggling, a whole lot of people in Panama and Paraguay (85 per cent of people in both countries answered yes to all the questions), in Venezuela (84 per cent) and Trinidad and Tobago (83 per cent), in Thailand (83 per cent) and Costa Rica (81 per cent) had a good day.

Canada tied for 11th, at 80 per cent, along with Colombia, Malaysia, The Netherlands and Ireland. We were ahead of the United Kingdom (77 per cent), the United States (76 per cent), Australia (75 per cent) or France (74 per cent). (Gallop reports that the margin of error in each country surveyed ranged from 3.4 per cent to 3.9 per cent.)

What can we draw from this? First, that above a certain level, money does not, indeed, buy happiness. Yes, poverty and/or violence must have contributed to relatively low scores for Haiti (55 per cent) and Iraq (50 per cent).

But Singapore, the fifth wealthiest nation on earth, earned the lowest score of all (46 per cent), while Panama, which ranks 90th in GDP per capita, tied for first.

Gallup, citing the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton of Princeton University, reports that in the United States "income only makes a significant impact on daily positive emotions when earning up to $75,000 annually – after that, additional income does not make as much of a difference."

Why are Latin Americans so happy? It may be that, however much they may struggle economically, Latinos place a high value on family and community, which appears to contribute to a positive outlook on life.

Why are Canadians so happy? Personal freedom might have something to do with it. Singapore, though rich, is an authoritarian country.

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Personal security might be a factor. America, as the horrors of last week reminded us, is a far more violent society than Canada. It also experiences a greater level of social inequality.

Immigration could be a factor. Canada brings in more people, on a per capita basis, than any other developed country. The 250,000 people who arrive here annually are, no doubt, as grateful to have reached our shores as were the ancestors of those who have been here a while.

But perhaps, rather than over-analyze, we should simply count our blessings. We live in a beautiful land, with bountiful natural resources and a resourceful people.

People from every place on earth live together peacefully. We are prosperous and safe. We care for each other when we need to and leave each other alone when we should.

And on any given day, 80 per cent of us have a good day.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More


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