Foreign Policy Blogs

Latin America and the Importance of a Positive Life

Credit: PAL 1970 via Flickr

Many who believe the Mayan calendar’s predictions are factual see December 21st as the last day of days. Recent worldwide events might make many feel that his could be the case. With political strife in the Middle East, the murder of children in both the U.S. and China, ongoing economic problems in Europe and the general global malaise, the world might not be ending for all, but for some it surely must feel that way. Yesterday an index of global happiness was released and the results were that many countries in Latin America were the world’s happiest. Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador and Costa Rica were all at the top of the survey of the world’s happiest people. Colombia was ranked 11th, and Mexico and Brazil ranked around 20. While the world has become a better place than six decades ago when we were entrenched in wars, a negative view and high rates of personal depression makes many believe that life is not what it should be and that a possible Mayan explanation can provide those answers. Perhaps it is not and end predicted by the Maya, but a way of joie de vivre experienced by life living in the South.

Explanations on the results of the survey are interesting indeed, with some explanations surrounding the resilience of many in Latin America to look beyond immediate problems and live a life day-by-day despite what is going on externally. The suggestion that constant problems make people adapt and become positive in living their life could be one of the main reasons people are positive, perhaps because it is difficult to lament the worst constantly and live a productive life. Other explanations cite  certain cultural aspects that teach Latin Americans to keep a positive face on things, even if there are personal problems internally. These are both interesting suggestions, the fact that less might make someone feel as if they have more to be positive about could come from an appreciation for the smaller things in life. This could also be a reason why countries like France and Germany did not do so well on the survey, as if you are higher up, you will hit the ground harder if you do happen to fall. Regarding having a positive attitude on the face of things, I think the cultural nature of being from Latin America does not just place a happy face on every situation, as people who are family or close friends do have constant, open and honest discussions of a positive and negative nature. It might be that the support one gets in difficult times from those around them helps lift up everyone in general, while honestly and negative things do happen, it is the support that makes it more bearable. In addition, it is also a culture of support and not assuming the other individual is free therapy or promoting a culture of negativity with every aspect of life. Being constantly negative may not thrive when a community of open and honest individuals are there for support as there is simply no time to seek out the worst case scenario when you have so many in your corner.

While not exclusive to Latin America, I think the culture of family, support and living your life to spend time with your family is an important part of Latin American culture that keeps people positive. Being with those close to you and finding other friends and partners that value that way of life is a key part of Latin American culture and might be the main reason people can not only be positive, but stay positive as they are never truly alone. Interestingly, many discussions and documentaries about immigrant groups to the U.S. show that there is an internal conflict for many who move from their countries of origin to the U.S. as they do not wish to lose their supports to their new culture rooted in individualism. While being motivated and entrepreneurial is valued, a life of being with your family and enjoying a life where you are never truly alone is the basis for many cultures from many parts of the world. Many new Americans frown upon the thought that a child can detach themselves from their family at 18 years of age, and families can only truly thrive in a positive manner as a family. This might be one of the main factors of being happy, not by region, but from family to family.

  • HannahMira

    In the United States, we are taught to follow our dreams and to be individuals, and that by following that rule of thumb, we will attain happiness. And then we are taught about cultures that promote more family-centered values, though sometimes portrayed as an opposite extreme. I think it’s interesting to think how these two can actually exist simultaneously, especially when put into the context of those who may have nothing except family. I wonder if part of the reason why the French and Germans didn’t score as high on the survey is because “following your dreams”
    can turn into constant goal setting that one can’t ever be satisfied and accept the place where he or she is in life in the present. And yet again, you turn to China, where people who move by themselves from their families’ homes in the country to urban apartments in order to get jobs, and if they’re making money to send back to their families, they are generally happy. (even if the conditions are terrible and they rarely get to visit with their families.) It’s interesting how something as seemingly universal as happiness can be expressed in so many different ways around the world.


Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration