Living in the most emotional countries in the world

Bolivians, Guatemalans, Iraqis, Cambodians, and Filipinos describe what it’s like to live in a very expressive society.

GDP may be used to assess a country’s economy, but it cannot tell you what it’s like to live in a particular location. That is one of the reasons Bhutan prefers to assess GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

Gallup conducts a Global Emotions Report on a regular basis to address the intangible aspects that make up a country and its people. The study, which includes 148 nations, seeks to determine how frequently inhabitants experience good or negative emotions on a daily basis, yielding data that shows where in the globe people are more likely to laugh – or suffer rage.

According to the most recent survey, Latin America is home to the bulk of the world’s most emotional countries, with Iraq, Cambodia, and the Philippines rounding out the top ten. We sought out people in these nations to learn what it’s like to live in a location where emotions — both positive and negative – run strong.


Bolivia topped the Gallup measure, with over 60% of inhabitants reporting good or negative feelings on any given day.

“People are generally friendly, open, interested, and inviting,” said Pauline Kucharew, a Canadian who resided in Sucre last year. However, because the nation is seldom visited by visitors, many inhabitants – particularly in rural regions – are reserved.

bolivia ranked the most emotional countries in the world (1)
Bolivia tops the Gallup index, ranking as the world’s most emotional country (Credit: David Noton Photography/Alamy)

The absence of an established tourism sector (unlike neighboring Peru) stems from a sense of pride. Residents are intrigued by outsiders, but “they don’t necessarily prefer to put tourists ‘above’ them per se,” according to Kucharew. This generates a distinct culture in which visitors who do come to Bolivia frequently remain for weeks or months rather than days.

This is especially true in Sucre, one of the safest cities in the nation, which has a tiny expat population dominated by English and Germans who own pubs, restaurants, and language schools. Sucre, as a university town, has a thriving nightlife scene while classes are in session. “Sucre is a colonial city with a bit of a European feel, which makes it quite comfortable as an expat,” Kucharew said.

ranked the most emotional countries in the world (2)
Sucre is one of Bolivia’s safest cities (Credit: Jesse Kraft/Alamy)


Historical trauma has left its imprint on Cambodia, with many people recalling Pol Pot’s and the Khmer Rogue’s murderous regime, during which more than 20% of the country’s population was slaughtered. Though the accompanying emotions might still be felt even after 40 years, locals don’t usually communicate their sentiments openly.

cambodia ranked the most emotional countries in the world (9)
Most expats move to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, near Angkor Wat (Credit: Kjersti Joergensen/Alamy)

“Cambodians are highly sensitive people, but many individuals, especially the older generations, have learned to suppress their true emotions,” said Kounila Keo, creator of the Blue Lady Blog and originally from Phnom Penh. “Unfortunately, they are unable to explain or communicate those sentiments to strangers or the general public.”

Despite the high psychological cost, people are exceedingly kind and open to visitors. “Everywhere I travel, I encounter individuals who say they adore Cambodia/Phnom Penh because Cambodians are so nice and kind,” Keo remarked. She also remarked how readily Cambodians smile, particularly in comparison to individuals of other nations.

Carolina Borras, a Colombian-Canadian who stayed in Siem Reap last year and publishes the Inspired Nomads blog, discovered the same thing. “They would grin even when I rejected down touting from tuk tuk drivers and others,” she added. “Because the villagers were so receptive to the experience, I was able to form some connections with them.”

cambodia ranked the most emotional countries in the world (3)
Cambodian residents are quick to offer a welcoming smile (Credit: Pawel Bienkowski/Alamy)

Locals, she explained, were always willing to make jokes and invite her to places and events. “At pubs and clubs, we’d laugh and even lock arms and dance,” she recalled. It reminded me of my time in Colombia, because that’s how my cousins and I spend our time together. “I’m always lively and full of energy.”

Most expats relocate to the city, Phnom Penh, in the country’s southern central region, or to the close-knit community of Siem Reap, 300 kilometers to the north. While both towns are relatively inexpensive, they are plagued by street crime and traffic accidents, so inhabitants must be constantly alert of their surroundings.

The Philippines

This island nation was the only non-Latin American country in the top five of the Gallup index, but the similarities may be more than coincidental.

“There are certain parallels between Filipino and Latin American cultures,” said Steven de Guzman, who lives just north of Manila. “After all, they were both under Spain for a long time, so I would say they are both up there in terms of being ’emotional.'”

cebu ranked the most emotional countries in the world (5)
Cebu City is a popular spot for expats in the Philippines (Credit: Keren Su/China Span/Alamy)

The country and its culture are a unique blend of east and west, and while Filipino and English are the official languages, a variety of dialects and Spanish terms are popular.

Though profoundly felt, unpleasant feelings are not often readily or straightforwardly articulated in the Philippines. “Because we are emotional, we try to conceal if we don’t feel good about a person, item, or event,” explained Ulysis Cababan, a Philippines native who works for RapidVisa in Cebu City. “We prefer to keep it to ourselves, or worse, we talk about it to other people, resulting in gossip.” If you are not into chika-chika [gossiping], I believe you are not from the Philippines.”

ranked the most emotional countries in the world (4)
Filipino culture is family-oriented, hospitable and warm (Credit: Justin James Wright/Getty)

The culture is extremely family-oriented, friendly, and welcoming. “Most strangers, especially foreigners, are always greeted with a grin,” Cababan added. Due to its commerce and closeness to both the beaches and the mountains, Cebu City, the country’s first capital and located in the middle islands, is a favorite landing point for expats.


This Central American country ranked high in the index, and Portuguese blogger Zara Quiroga, who currently lives in Antigua, Guatemala, was not surprised.

guatemala ranked the most emotional countries in the world (10)
Clothing is vibrant and expressive in Guatemala (Credit: Jamie Marshall – Tribaleye Image/Getty)

“People in Guatemala are very welcoming and expressive,” she said – even to the point where they easily share intimate personal details with newcomers.

“One afternoon while wandering through Antigua, I came across a lady making textiles.” “Even though she contacted me to sell anything, the talk quickly became personal and emotional,” she stated. “In a five-minute talk, we covered such a wide range of emotions!” From the time she was on the verge of death, through the time her daughter delivered her first child, to the present, she considers life in Antigua to be a blessing. To be honest, I can’t imagine having such a deep and emotional talk with someone I just met in many other areas of the world.

guatemala ranked the most emotional countries in the world (11)
The colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala is bright and colorful (Credit: dbimages/Alamy)

The vivid colors observed in everyday life represent the country’s feelings, according to Quiroga; décor and clothes are never too basic. This strong point of view is reflected in the materials, dress style, and vividly painted dwellings.

Expats, which include many digital nomads and retirees, prefer to reside in Antigua, which is safer than Guatemala City, the country’s capital. Despite being less than an hour away, “Antigua is considerably beautiful, safer, and easier to traverse,” according to Quiroga.

ranked the most emotional countries in the world (6)
The emotions of Guatemala are reflected in the rich colours seen in day-to-day life (Credit: Blaine Harrington III/Alamy)


While global events do have an impact on the emotional experience in Iraq, particularly on the negative index, the country has a long history of being emotional.

“Back in 2009, before all the damage, I visited Syria and was surprised to find that Syrians term sad music ‘Iraqi music,’ because our music is nearly always sad,” said Wael Al-Sallami, a software developer at Weebly in San Francisco and originally from Babylon, Iraq. “More than happiness, sadness is strongly embedded in the society.”

iraq ranked the most emotional countries in the world (8)
“Iraq has a long history of being an emotional country” (Credit: Mohannad Khatib @Mediumshot/Getty)

This is reflected in mourning customs, notably in the country’s central and southern regions, where the Shia population predominates. Factors such as Saddam Hussein’s regime and international intervention have also contributed to difficult feelings.

However, poetry and a keen sense of humour are both defining features of Middle Eastern and Arab countries, according to Al-Sallami, and while Egypt may take the final crown in terms of humor, he rates Iraq as one of the top in terms of poetry.

Westerners who move to Iraq should settle in the Kurdish part of the country. “The Kurds manage their own regional government and maintain a fairly secure part of the country,” Al-Sallami said. “It’s beautiful there too, very green and quite pleasant actually.”

ranked the most emotional countries in the world (7)