The world is having more good times, but bad times are staying the same, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The Gallup Global Emotions 2023 Report is an annual collection of data from more than 100 countries that asks how people are feeling.

The number of positive experiences saw some recovery in 2022, according to the report. Positive experiences had remained relatively stable in previous years, but dropped in 2021, according to Julie Ray, managing editor for world news at Gallup.

That same year, the world saw an increase in negative experiences to the highest rate researchers had measured in the 17 years they had been conducting the research, she added.

The good news is that the rate of negative experiences didn’t go up in 2022.

“There wasn’t any upward movement, which is a positive sign, but it also stayed at its highest level that we we’ve ever measured,” Ray said.

There isn’t direct evidence as to why the positive experiences were higher in 2022, but one could speculate it was a bit of a sigh of relief, she added.

“As people started to emerge from the grips of pandemic … it’s a little bit of a release of that pressure valve,” Ray said.

And while there are victories in the increase of positive experiences, it is not necessarily time for celebration, she added.

“It’s a little early for a lot of countries and leaders and policymakers and businesses and organizations to really relax because those negative experiences are still at their highest level that we’ve ever measured,” Ray said.

The Gallup report, which is a good source of comparative emotional data around the world, is important because it offers “the chance to broaden our conversations and attention, and enabling a deeper understanding of what helps to make lives better,” said John Helliwell, professor emeritus in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and an editor of the World Happiness Report, a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Helliwell did not participate in collecting the data for the Gallup report.

The surveys asked five questions each about positive and negative experiences.

The most positive places

To quantify the positive, researchers asked: Did you feel well rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday? Did you experience enjoyment?

For the negative, questions asked if the respondents experienced physical pain, worry, sadness, stress or anger in the previous day.

The report posed the questions specifically about the day before because it would still be fresh in people’s minds, Ray said.

At the highest end of negative experiences were countries where people are experiencing a lot of political or security issues, she added. Those included Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, which wasn’t surprising as the report was done about a year after the Taliban officially took control of Afghanistan and after protests over standards of living and political issues in Sierra Leone, Ray said.

As for the countries with the highest positive experiences, those tended to be Latin American and Southeast Asian countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Indonesia and the Philippines, she added.

“That is something that we tend to see in our data year after year is that on the positive side of the ledger, but also on the negative side of the ledger,” Ray said. “You see just kind of extreme responses in Latin American countries and how they respond to this question.”

Positive vs. happy 

The data can help citizens, governments and organizations get a sense of how people are feeling, Ray said.

But countries that don’t stand out on the list of highest positive experiences may still be happy — happiness and positive experiences are correlated, but not the same, said Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. Ungar, who is a member of the university’s Positive Psychology Center, did not work on the Gallup report.



The feelings Gallup measured are relatively short term, but long-term happiness is usually measured by life satisfaction, he added. People in countries like Finland and Denmark, for example, may not report as high of levels of laughing, but are ranked highly in terms of happiness because they report being generally satisfied, Ungar said.

While not the same, tracking these positive and negative emotions are important because they have implications for people’s health and happiness, Helliwell said.

How to live the good life

The biggest factors getting in the way of a happy life are poverty and health — and those often call for a larger societal response, Ungar said.

But the most important things to cultivating happiness are within individual reach: meaning and social connection, he added.

When it comes to meaning, Ungar said you need to find something to work toward that feels worthwhile. That could be:

  • raising your family
  • participating in your religious community
  • volunteering for a cause that is important to you.

Ungar recommended putting a high priority on the quality of your friendships, family connections and romantic partnerships as well as seeking out positive interactions with strangers.

“There’s something which takes more investment and effort and a little bit of overcoming that fear, which is to reach out and try and say, ‘Hey, I really enjoyed talking to you yesterday. Could we get together again?’” Ungar said. “The evidence shows people underestimate how much benefit they get by investing the time and connecting with people.”

After Covid-19 lockdowns, we may be out of practice with those daily interactions with new people. And as many people continue to work from home, there may be some opportunity lost in a more isolated workplace, Ungar said.

“We’re still on a readjustment period of how do we move ourselves out of our houses and get back and talk to people again,” he said. “You can imagine working from home and going out to the coffee shop and being just a social network. But I think a lot of people haven’t made that transition.

“I’m an optimist. I’m a positive psychologist. I’m hoping people will get there,” Ungar added.