December 30, 2014

Who’s having a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day around the world

Typical Days Common in Europe; Good Days in Africa, Latin America and U.S.How would you describe your day today? Has it been a typical day, a particularly good day, or a particularly bad day?

As part of the Pew Research Center’s annual Global Attitudes survey, this question is usually the first we pose to respondents in all the countries we survey. One reason we ask such a milquetoast question first is to help the respondents become more comfortable with the interviewer. The vast majority of the polls we conduct are done with face-to-face interviews in the respondent’s home, and asking about their day is one way to kick off the conversation.

Having said that, the question is not necessarily a throwaway. Looking at the responses we received this year from 48,643 people we surveyed in 44 countries provides a glimpse of the mood of individual nations and even regions of the world.

A median of nearly two-thirds (65%) across the countries surveyed in spring 2014 responded that they were having a typical day. Only around a quarter (27%) said their day was going particularly well, and not even one-in-ten (7%) admitted their day was going poorly.

Africans and Latin Americans were more likely to say it was a good day (47% and 43%, respectively) and certain countries stand out for their more positive responses. For example, around half or more in Nigeria (58%), Colombia (57%), Nicaragua (53%), Kenya (52%) and Brazil (51%) said their day was particularly good. (For full results by country, see here).

The U.S. is also one of the more upbeat countries when it comes to describing the day. Overall, 41% of Americans said the day was a good one, with nearly half (49%) saying the day was typical. Only 8% of Americans professed to having a bad day.

Meanwhile, bad days were more common in Egypt (32% said it was a particularly bad day) and Jordan (27%) than in any other country, and the Middle East had slightly more bad day responses compared to other regions.

It may sound surprising, but many of those in the poorer countries surveyed were more likely than those in richer nations to say the day was a good one. When looking at this question by national income, there is a slightly negative correlation between saying the day is a good one and per capita GDP. The U.S. is a major outlier on this measure. It has the highest GDP per capita among the countries surveyed and Americans were more likely to rate a day as particularly good than people in other rich nations. Still, in almost all these countries, the most common response to this question is that the day was just “typical.”

Fewer in rich countries say today is a good day; U.S. an exception

Interestingly, Europeans stood out for being more likely to say the day was typical (a median of 76% across seven EU nations), with only 17% who said the day was good. Less than three-in-ten in every European country surveyed said the day was going well. And in Asia, a median of 68% said the day was typical, although 30% said the day was a good one. In Japan, almost nine-in-ten (89%) said the day was a normal one.

As a matter of survey continuity, almost every Global Attitudes survey going back to 2007 has had this inquiry as the first. And generally, there is little variation in the responses over time. Across the 29 countries surveyed in both 2007 and 2014, a median of 67% said it was a typical day in 2014, while 68% in the same set of countries said this in 2007.

For full topline results and survey methodology, see here

For chart showing full results, see here

Topics: Research Methods

  1. Photo of Jacob Poushter

    is a senior researcher focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.


  1. David Schindler2 years ago

    Relativity: If you are poor, a good day is not expected. If you survive it without serious reversals of fortune , it is a good day. If you are well-to-do, survival is a given. However, the metrics are different. The poor expect little. The rich expect too much and when they don’t get it it’s a bad day. It’s similar to businesses projecting a certain increase in business based on past performance and when they don’t get that, it is considered a loss. They are too optimistic in thinking that things will continue along the same trend. The pessimistic poor have been taught by circumstance that nothing is certain and if no serious reversals of fortune happen it was a good day.

  2. Monque3 years ago

    I would have liked to see where Canada and the Scandinavian countries fell – similar per capita GDPs (with the exception of Norway, I guess), but different attitudes compared to the US!

    1. Jacob Poushter3 years ago

      Hi Monque,

      Unfortunately, we did not survey in Canada or any of the Scandinavian countries in 2014. However, we do have past data from a few wealthy countries, including Canada (2009), Australia (2008) and Sweden (2007). And since these results hold fairly steady year to year, we can look at what those countries would have yielded using 2013 GDP data.

      In 2009, 46% of Canadians said they were having a good day and GDP per capita (PPP) in 2013 was $43,253. In 2008, 39% of Australians said their day was particularly good and GDP per capita is $45,138. And in 2007, 40% of Swedes said the day was good, while GDP per capita is $43,407.

      If we plotted these results on the scatter graph, they would appear above the 2014 European countries, and to the left of the United States. So, in these three rich countries, attitudes about a typical day are closer to that of the U.S., while GDP per capita falls somewhere in between the U.S. and Western European nations.

      I hope this helps better understand our data. You can find all past trends at our question search database

  3. Jeff Michells3 years ago

    Interesting result of the survey that seemingly does contradict the popular view on happiness.

    However, the survey only included 44 countries in total and lacked the richest countries in the world *). Would a sample including Luxembourg, Singapore, Norway, and Switzerland have altered the trend?

    *) Of the top 10 countries in GDP per capita only the 10th was included
    1 Qatar 145,894
    2 Luxembourg 90,333
    3 Singapore 78,762
    4 Brunei 73,823
    5 Kuwait 70,785
    6 Norway 64,363
    7 United Arab Emirates 63,181
    8 San Marino[6][7] 62,766
    9 Switzerland 53,977
    10 United States 53,001

  4. Muthyavan.3 years ago

    Looks like people in middle east have a difficult time based on this world wide survey.

    1. J. Michells3 years ago

      Interesting result of the survey that seemingly does contradict the popular view on happiness.

      However, the survey only included 44 countries in total and lacked the richest countries in the world *). Would a sample including Luxembourg, Singapore, Norway, and Switzerland have altered the trend?

      *) Of the top 10 countries in GDP per capita only the 10th was included i.e., Qatar 145,894; Luxembourg 90,333; Singapore 78,762; Brunei 73,823; Kuwait 70,785; Norway 64,363; United Arab Emirates 63,181; San Marino 62,766; Switzerland 53,977; United States 53,001.

  5. Dr. Brian+L.+Horejsi3 years ago

    Is PEW just “sort of” handicapped? or do they just reflect american arrogance? Hard to tell, but I suspect the latter plays a disproportionate role.

    The issues is, do they recognize that Canada is a major part of North America, and if so, why report, lets say, Senegal, but NOT Canada?

    Probably, the answer is they dont particularly care one way or another about Canada – as in how could Canada possibly be important when we, as in America, are the REAL north Americans, or something along those lines!

    Pathetic, is my summation of it.

    1. NorthCharlton3 years ago

      I doubt that the research was done with the intention of massaging egos or demonstrating “inclusiveness”.

      Canadians might be happy and having a really good day on average, or they might not. Are there enough of them to matter? If so, to whom, and in what regard?

      If one had a firm hypothesis as to what drove these attitude differences across political boundaries, then a survey of Canadians, accounting for their likenesses to, and differences from, Americans on average, might be helpful.

      But given that Canadians are typically thought of as a political population significantly self-selected for community values conformity (and proudly so, some would say) , my guess would be that they tend toward the Euro side of the continuum; though, perhaps, somewhat more like Americans than others who might be even more deeply trapped in humdrum communitarian countries, centrally and minutely and bureaucratically governed.

      How do you account for upbeat people in third world dictatorships? I don’t know.

      Maybe sample average age or social average age, as someone mentioned, is the important factor.

      In any event, whether these off-hand ruminations are correct or not, it would be interesting to also test if there is any correlation between religiosity (broadly construed in the sense of life having an intrinsic or transcendental purpose) and being personally upbeat; or, between self-directive opportunities on an immediate scale which might exist even in relative chaos, and a sense of having a good rather than ordinary living day.

      Clearly there is something unique about at least some population or proportion of Americans: wherein, they seemingly retain what looks like the positive attitudes of those in undeveloped nations, while personally enjoying a higher level of material prosperity. Is this upbeat population (or event reporting) randomly distributed throughout the greater American political population? Or can the result be accounted for by an identifiable subset of the gross political population?

      Might, say, the result be due to a large number of Hispanics in the US?

      Or alternatively, if you like: we are informed that some U.S. research seems to indicate that certain self-identified American political/ideological sub-populations (you can easily guess or discover which) are more prone to anxiety disorders, neuroses, and the prescription use of mood altering drugs; all while evincing less sexual dimorphism (theorized as hormonal effects) than the contrasting ideological populations.

      So, perhaps, the daily life-world simply looks different to people who have particular “personality traits”; be those traits real manifestations of an organic disposition, or culturally shaped biases, or a combination of them.

      Pew, I am sure, could devise a survey to help resolve this one way or the other.

      I look forward to any surveys they might devise in order to help explain the apparent results they have discovered.

  6. Sue Morrow3 years ago

    Just a quick note of sincere thanks for your superb work in general and the daily/periodic email communications in particular. Our life is better and richer because of your information, not to mention the pleasure we have in sharing it with others. All good wishes for an even better 2015!


    1. Bruce Drake3 years ago

      Thanks for very much for your kind words and being a reader.

  7. mrique3 years ago

    The correlation with GDP /capita is of interest, but could I suggest that the corelation with the average population age would either be a clue ?
    “Poor” countries having more good day because of their younger population being more optimistics and dynamic ?

    1. friva3 years ago

      Good point

      1. Michal2 years ago

        Perhaps next survey this question can be followed up on with an open question as to what makes that specific day typical, better than typical or worse than typical. Who knows, maybe more interesting stuff will come out of it…