Saudi Arabia has come third in a poll for the world’s happiest countries — in a list which features almost no European.
Despite condemnation from human rights groups, and being in a region torn apart by religious and regional strife, the kingdom has only been pipped to top position by Fiji and Colombia.
At an average temperature of about 26 °C in January, the beautiful Fiji islands have an evident advantage — but Colombia, which suffers from drug-related gang wars and rife government corruption, was the country which came in first out of all 68 surveyed.
Indeed, nearby Mexico ranked as the world’s eighth happiest country — despite the number of deaths in the country outpacing that of Afghanistan and Iraq combined between 2007 and 2014 because of gang violence.
The research was carried out by WIN/Gallup International, a polling association which interviewed 66,040 people from 68 countries.
The findings suggest that either people have different perceptions of what “happiness” means, or that material wealth, ideological freedom and civil stability do not necessarily translate into personal contentedness.
Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most surprising result, given Amnesty International’s recent assessment of the kingdom as having a government which “severely restricts freedoms of expression, association and assembly” over the past two years.
The country arrests and imprisons critics, oppresses and executes the Shia religious minority, and does not adequately protect women in law from discrimination and sexual violence, the Amnesty report said.
China and Fiji are also two of the most hopeful nations, with China also the third most optimistic about economic prosperity. Nigerians are the most optimistic about their economy.
Europe, meanwhile, barely made it into the top 10 countries for happiness.
Iceland, which has one of the highest divorce rates and percentages of women working outside the home, was the only European country to make the top 10, sharing joint tenth position with China.
Italy is the least hopeful nation out of their 68 nations surveyed, while Greece is the third most unhappy country — and France and Italy tie as the 10th most unhappy.