The country where you live can have a big impact on your life. A new study of people from 128 countries finds that the more satisfied people are with their country, the better they feel about their lives—especially people who have low incomes or live in relatively poor countries.
The study, published in the latest issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, is based on a Gallup World Poll that reached about 1,000 people in each of 128 countries, obtaining a total of more than 130,000 responses. People were asked a series of questions about their life including their job satisfaction, household income, and how they feel about their life and their country.
“We predicted that people who were experiencing rough times—those with little money or living in a very poor country—would look to other areas where they might be able to console themselves,” says lead author Mike Morrison, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who wrote the study with Louis Tay and Ed Diener.
Indeed, that’s what they found. No matter where you are in the world, feeling good about your country turned out to be highly associated with personal well-being. But this association was stronger for people with low incomes, people who live in poorer nations, and people in non-Western nations. “You can hear politicians in any country declare, ‘We live in the best country in the world!’ and people cheer,” says Morrison, who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. “Anyone can idealize their country”—and this appears to be a potent option for those who are worse off financially.
People in non-Western countries are on average more likely to identify strongly with a group, as opposed to the sense of individualism prevalent in the West. This could explain why non-Westerners’ sense of personal well-being is more closely linked to their satisfaction with their country.
For people with high incomes and people in Western countries, well-being was more closely linked to personal factors like health, standard of living, and job satisfaction. Morrison says, “This shows that those who are very rich or live in a Western culture assess their well-being in different ways than those who are poorer or live in non-Western country.”
Most studies of happiness have focused on individual lives—people’s health and income, attitudes, or temperaments. “But we find here that societal characteristics, and how they are perceived, can also be important,” says co-author Ed Diener, a prominent happiness researcher. “What is more, societal characteristics become even more important to happiness when one’s life is not going so well. This might explain why nationalism, the loyalty of sports fans, and religiosity can be very strong in the toughest of times.”