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As a region, the Americas fare quite well in Gallup's new global index of personal well-being, but the U.S. fell from No. 12 to No. 23 worldwide. The top 10 includes Costa Rica, Belize, and Mexico.

Panama took the top spot for the second straight year in the Gallup-Healthways Country Well-Being report, with Costa Rica second. Switzerland was the top European country, in fourth. At No. 23, the U.S. is one spot behind Israel and one ahead of Canada.

If you're looking to boost your own well-being, you might want to boost your leisure activities — maybe even take a vacation. As NPR reported in 2009, the benefits can include "lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and smaller waists."

To create its global index, Gallup looked at how people in 145 countries and areas respond to questions about five areas related to their well-being: purpose; social; financial; community; and physical (see the questions at bottom of this post).

World's top 10 — percent thriving

1. Panama — 53
2. Costa Rica — 47.6
3. Puerto Rico — 45.8
4. Switzerland — 39.4
5. Belize — 38.9
6. Chile — 38.7
7. Denmark — 37
8. Guatemala — 36.3
9. (tie) Austria — 35.6
9. (tie) Mexico — 35.6

Worldwide, only about one in six adults are considered to be thriving or to have strong or consistent results in at least three of those five areas, Gallup says.

"Latin Americans in particular have higher levels of well-being than any other regional group," the polling firm says. "Residents of many Latin American countries are among the most likely in the world to report daily positive experiences such as smiling and laughing, feeling enjoyment, and feeling treated with respect each day."

Among regions, sub-Saharan Africa was found to be the least thriving over all. But the worst circumstances were found in Afghanistan, which finished last in several categories.

Gallup notes:

"Subjective well-being does not necessarily correlate with GDP, the presence of conflict or other absolute indicators. War-torn populations such as those in Afghanistan may have extremely low well-being, but Gallup and Healthways also found low levels of well-being in countries that are relatively stable, such as Croatia, South Korea and Singapore."

Noting that many countries struggle to have a population that thrives in at least three areas, Peter Choueiri, president of Healthways International, says that there's "a huge opportunity" for improvement, by political, community and business leaders.

"There are proven interventions that these leaders can and should leverage to improve the health and well-being of their population and, at the same time, create measurable economic value," Choueiri said.

In compiling the index, Gallup says it collected data through 146,000 interviews.

To get a sense of how people are doing, Gallup asked people to say how they felt about two aspects of each of its five elements:


You like what you do every day.
You learn or do something interesting every day.


Someone in your life always encourages you to be healthy.
Your friends and family give you positive energy every day.


You have enough money to do everything you want to do.
In the last seven days, you have worried about money.


The city or area where you live is a perfect place for you.
In the last 12 months, you have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where you live.


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