Happiest Countries in Latin America 2022

People in Latin America are surprisingly happy given the region's high levels of inequality, poor governance, and often high crime rates. What is their secret?


The peoples of Latin America know how to squeeze the most happiness out of life. Their sense of subjective wellbeing is quite high not just in comparison to other regions of the world, but to what their per capita income suggests. Add to that strong inequality rates, weak political institutions, exposure to crime and the latest addition and the worst villain of all—the Covid-19 pandemic—and such an elevated level of perceived happiness appears even more baffling.

Yet it is no mistake or statistical anomaly. Edition after edition since it was released for the first time in 2013, the United Nation’s World Happiness Report confirmed these findings. High GDP per capita, social support in times of need, absence of corruption in government, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity or charity towards others: these are the six key variables that the researchers have used over time in their report on global life satisfaction. Can you guess which one matters the most when everything else is not so great?

The presence of supportive social relationships trumps all other measures when it comes to happiness, and the enjoyment of these positive relationships—even when taking into account all intra-regional differences—seems to be central in people’s lives all across this continent of more than 650 million.

This is not to say that social and economic problems don’t put a dent in their happiness. Lower happiness, however, does not necessarily mean low happiness. Nurturing interpersonal relations, the researches at the U.N. explain, is the best way to prevent problems from overwhelming us. Family satisfaction is very high in Latin America and the Caribbean, and close and warm relations do also extend to friends, neighbors and colleagues.

To be sure, the ability to rely on others can’t make all problems disappear. Rather, that means that happiness could be even greater if the social and economic issues affecting the region were properly tackled.


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Guatemala is a land of contradictions: beautiful Mayan ruins, active volcanoes, spectacular lakes and lush green forests on the one hand, and violence, corruption and poverty on the other. What is not in doubt is the population’s positive attitude towards life.

This country of roughly 18 million people has suffered a 36-year-long civil war and is still battling all sorts of economic and social maladies—yet it consistently ranks well in the World Happiness Report. Roughly one-half of the population is indigenous and their heightened sense of community is directly related to high levels of life satisfaction and to feeling valued. And remarkably so: along with El Salvador, Panama, Nicaragua and Paraguay it also routinely ranks in the highest positions of the Gallup’s Global Emotions Report.


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Some of the variables used by the researchers at the United Nations can help understand how a nation will behave when presented with a collective challenge. Brazil is one of the countries hit the hardest by Covid-19 globally. An unmistakable link, the happiness report points out, emerged between exceedingly high infection and death rates within a country and skepticism about the severity of the virus at the highest political level. Confidence in public institutions is an important component of happiness, and in Brazil the poor level of institutional trust directly translated into more suffering for the entire population.

Yet happiness is always the aggregate result of many factors, and Brazilians feel quite satisfied with their income levels, freedom to decide how to live and interpersonal relations. It is true that even in the most difficult circumstances there are moments of joy, and since the start of the pandemic Brazil lost only six spots in the global ranking (three in 2020, and three in 2021) to the 38th position it holds today globally.


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This year, Panama gains four positions in the Happiness list, thus placing 37th in the world. Yet, this Central American nation of just 4.3 million used to perform even better: in the first edition of the report, in 2013, it occupied the number fifteen spot, and its people rated their satisfaction with life at over 7.1 out of 10. Today, they rate it at 6.3.

Panama is a stable democracy and a fast-growing economy, and it excels when it comes to strong family and community bonds. While ranking fairly well in the categories of GDP per capita, social support and healthy life expectancy, Panamanians are growing impatient. According to Transparency International, Panama is one of the most corrupt high-income countries in the world; it scores low on gender parity; and poverty remains high and social services still lack among the indigenous groups, representing roughly 13% of the population. Lastly, the pandemic depressed economic activity, penalizing especially those employed in the crucial tourism sector.


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South America’s second-smallest country has been independent since 1828, is a high-income economy and it is considered one of the most democratic nations globally. It is also ranked first in Latin America in the Global Peace Index and has the longest national anthem in the world: it takes about six minutes to sing it from start to finish.

Despite this drawback, it always performs well in the Happiness Index. Safeguarding the title of the second-happiest on the continent, this year Uruguay also gains one extra position in the ranking.


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About 5 million people living on this thin stretch of land between Nicaragua and Panama are among the happiest on earth. Although one in four citizens is estimated to live below the poverty line, Costa Ricans exhibit higher wellbeing than the residents of many rich nations (including the US, and second only to Canada in the Americas as a whole). The happiness experts partially credit their levels of life satisfaction to the existence of a good welfare system that includes universal access to health care, primary and secondary education, and relatively high pension benefits.

How does the government pay for all that? Costa Rica abolished its military in 1949, and has since invested those savings in its people. Along with the presence of strong family ties, beautiful landscapes and perfect weather, it is no wonder that Costa Ricans are quite content with their way of living.


Global Rank


Regional Rank



23 1 Costa Rica
30 2 Uruguay
37 3 Panama
38 4 Brazil
39 5 Guatemala
44 6 Chile
45 7 Nicaragua
46 8 Mexico
49 9 El Salvador
55 10 Honduras
57 11 Argentina
63 12 Jamaica
66 13 Colombia
69 14 Dominican Republic
71 15 Bolivia
73 16 Paraguay
74 17 Peru
76 18 Ecuador
108 19 Venezuela
Source: The UN’s 2022 World Happiness Report.