This U.S. territory of sandy beaches and lush rain forest, close-knit families and endless celebrations is home to the happiest people...

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — This U.S. territory of sandy beaches and lush rain forest, close-knit families and endless celebrations is home to the happiest people in the world, according to a new study.

Never mind the low income or the high murder rate, the double-digit unemployment or the troubled public schools. Puerto Ricans say the emphasis on extended family, an easy warmth even among strangers and a readiness to celebrate anything, anywhere, at any time all contribute to a high quality of life here.

“There are over 500 festivals in Puerto Rico, and there are only 365 days in a year,” said Francisco Cavo, a U.S. Army medic at Fort Buchanan, near San Juan. “That’s a lot of fun on the schedule.”

The United States ranked 15th among the 82 societies in the study by the Stockholm-based World Values Survey, which was based on interviews with 120,000 people representing 85 percent of the global population. That put the United States ahead of Britain, Germany, France, Japan, China and Russia, but behind Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada.

The subjective well-being rankings are one part of an ongoing study of social, cultural and political change by a global network of social scientists.

The rankings are based on responses to questions about happiness and life satisfaction. Generally, the wealthiest nations tend to be the happiest. But Latin American societies, particularly those around the Caribbean — Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic — prove an exception.

Happiness rankings


1. Puerto Rico

2. Mexico

3. Denmark

4. Ireland

5. Iceland

Least happy

78. Russia

79. Armenia

80. Ukraine

81. Zimbabwe

82. Indonesia

The Orlando Sentinel

University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart, chairman of the survey, calls it “the Latino bonus.”

“They’re not the richest people in the world,” he said. “You seem to get a plus for being Latino.”

Inglehart says determining the reasons requires more study. But in Puerto Rico, at least, Enrique Rodriguez said he already knows.

“We are a small island, and people are nice to each other,” said Rodriguez, a retired government worker who lives in Old San Juan. “Everybody gets along. When we pass in the street, we say hello to each other.

“We have our problems like everyone, but they’re nothing like in Cuba or the Middle East. Even those without jobs have something to eat.”

Cavo, 22, a married father of two, stresses the importance of family.

“We value friends and family a lot,” he said. “I don’t know other countries. But the meaning of what a family is seems to be a little bit different here. It’s not just your wife and kids. It’s your mom and dad, uncles, aunts, all the cousins, everybody who’s got your last name.”

At the other end of the rankings, the former Soviet republics — Ukraine, Russia and Georgia among them — and the formerly communist nations of Eastern Europe, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Albania, are disproportionately unhappy.

“That is not surprising,” Inglehart said. “It’s not that they’re the poorest in the world, but they are societies that have gone from being fairly well-off and fairly secure to being very disoriented — poor, and life expectancy has fallen, and their standard of living has fallen, and their position in the world has fallen.”