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Map of global emotions shows the world is more stressed out than ever

If you want to escape the negativity, head to Kazakhstan.
global emotions
Stress levels worldwide, according to the 2022 Global Emotions Report: from a low of 12% in Kazakhstan (light green) to a high of 74% in Afghanistan (dark green). (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)
Key Takeaways
  • Tired of surveys predictably putting Scandinavia at the top of “happiest country” lists? Here’s a similar poll with some surprises.
  • The region with the highest reported levels of positive experiences? Central America. The country with the least negative experiences? Kazakhstan.
  • Some certainties can’t be avoided: Afghanistan is top in negative experiences, bottom in positive experiences.
The world hasn’t been this stressed since at least 2006, when Gallup started its annual survey of global emotions. (Credit: Steve Christo / Corbis via Getty Images)

If you’re feeling worse than ever, you’re not alone. Negative emotions have reached record levels the world over, Gallup found in its 2022 Global Emotions Report. Afghanistan leads the world in least positive and most negative experiences. But even in that slough of despond, the pollsters found some nuggets of good news.

Feelings and emotions are harder to measure than GDP or inflation; yet mood is a critical factor too in the state of nations. That’s why Gallup has been measuring the positive and negative experiences of adults since 2006 in, as of the latest survey, 122 countries across the globe.

Gallup’s Global Emotions Report

The 2022 results are based on interviews conducted from 2021 up to March of this year, so they reflect the impact of the second pandemic year but do not yet fully factor in the effect of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

Surveyors asked nearly 127,000 interviewees questions about their experiences the day before, both positive (Were they well-rested and treated respectfully? Did they smile or laugh a lot? Did they learn or do something interesting? Did they experience joy?) and negative (Did they experience pain, worry, sadness, stress, or anger?)

Lighter green means fewer positive experiences. Afghanistan and Turkey stand out — and so would Lebanon, if it were big enough to be visible on this map. (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)

The results? “If people thought 2020 would go down in history as one of the worst years ever, the results from [the] Positive Experience Index (PEI) suggest they just needed to wait for 2021,” Gallup’s report sarcastically scoffs.

After several years of stability (at 71 points out of 100), the PEI dropped to 69. Most people felt they had been treated with respect (86%, the highest scoring of the five questions), but only 50% said they learned or did something new the previous day (the lowest score). People felt less well-rested and experienced less joy, but they did smile or laugh a little bit more.

Central America, a cluster of positive experiences

Scandinavian countries traditionally crowd the top of “happiest country” lists, but the countries reporting the most positive experiences are in a different geographic cluster altogether — Central America, home to four of the top six. Here’s a look at the countries with the highest PEI:

  1. Panama (85)
  2. Indonesia (84)
  3. Paraguay (84)
  4. El Salvador (82)
  5. Honduras (82)
  6. Nicaragua (82)
  7. Iceland (81)
  8. Philippines (81)
  9. Senegal (81)
  10. Denmark (80)
  11. South Africa (80)
The global Positive Emotions Index went down a few points but is still a point above its even lower beginnings. (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)

Turn that list upside down, and Afghanistan comes out on top. Afghanistan has been the lowest-scoring country on the PEI since 2017. Things only got worse during the latest survey, conducted in August and September last year. That’s when America pulled out of the country, Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government collapsed, and the Taliban returned to power.

During this period, Afghans reported record low levels of joy (20%), smiling or laughing a lot (18%), and feeling well-rested (15%). The overall PEI score of 32 is the lowest ever — not just for Afghanistan, but for any country in the entire 16-year history of Gallup’s Global Emotions Report.

Things went from already bad to even worse in Afghanistan. (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)

While not as bad as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Turkey also reported plummeting levels of positive experiences (dropping nine points in a single year in Lebanon and four points in Turkey). The countries with the lowest PEI were:

  1. Afghanistan (32)
  2. Lebanon (37)
  3. Turkey (42)
  4. Egypt (52)
  5. Nepal (53)
  6. Tunisia (57)
  7. Jordan (58)
  8. Bangladesh (58)
  9. Algeria (58)
  10. Ukraine (60)
  11. Sierra Leone (60)
  12. Morocco (60)
  13. India (60)
  14. Georgia (60)

Positive and negative experiences are not yin and yang. As one rises, the other is not required to fall — except that in this survey, they did. The Positive Experience Index lost a few points, and the Negative Experience Index (NEI) gained one, reaching 33 points, a record high.

The most stressful year on record

Reported experiences of worry (42%), stress (41%), physical pain (31%), and sadness (28%) were all up one or two points over the previous year. Only anger (23%) was down, if only by a little.

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These results officially made 2021 the most stressful year on record. Still, the global stress level only went up by one point; the previous year saw a five-point increase.

Kazakhstan and Afghanistan are in the same neighborhood, but are on opposite ends of the 2022 Negative Experience Index. (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)

Afghans reported record levels of worry (80%), stress (74%), and sadness (61%). The country’s overall score of 59 points on the NEI was the highest score on record for the country, as well as the highest in the world in 2021. (The highest ever score was 61, reported by the Central African Republic in 2017).

If there are any bright spots in Afghanistan’s dismal performance (on both the PEI and the NEI), it’s that fewer Afghans reported being in physical pain (39% vs. 45% the previous year), and they were only slightly angrier (42% vs. 41%). Globally, the countries with the highest NEI were:

  1. Afghanistan (59)
  2. Lebanon (58)
  3. Iraq (51)
  4. Sierra Leone (50)
  5. Jordan (48)
  6. Turkey (46)
  7. Bangladesh (45)
  8. Ecuador (45)
  9. Guinea (45)
  10. Benin (44)

Kazakhstan, a.k.a. Relaxastan

So, where do you go when you want to get away from all that negativity? The surprising answer is: Kazakhstan. Only 12% of Kazakhs surveyed reported feeling stressed the previous day, the lowest score worldwide, shared with nearby Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan also leads the bottom-up version of the NEI; in other words, it’s the country with the lowest reported level of negative experiences worldwide. The lowest-scoring countries on the NEI were:

  1. Kazakhstan (14)
  2. Taiwan (16)
  3. Kosovo (17)
  4. Mauritius (18)
  5. Singapore (19)
  6. Mongolia (19)
  7. Malaysia (19)
  8. Lithuania (19)
  9. South Africa (20)
  10. Russia (20)
  11. Latvia (20)
  12. Kyrgyzstan (20)
  13. Estonia (20)

As Russia’s placing on this final list reminds us, this poll was taken largely before that country’s invasion of Ukraine. The world being what it is today, next year’s Global Emotions Report probably will have a slightly different result — and break a few more records.

The global Negative Experience Index is at an all-time high. (Credit: Gallup Global Emotions Report)

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