Cambodians ‘Negative’—But Most Still Smiling

Cambodians are among the most negative people on earth, ranked among troubled nations such as Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Lebanon, according to a recently published Gallup survey of 138 countries. Though it’s not all bad news, as 67 percent of the nation is still laughing, smiling and generally enjoying life.

In Gallup’s previous Positive Experience Index, recorded in 2012 but released in October, Cambodians placed in the upper half of 143 countries surveyed for regularly experiencing “positive emotions.”

This year, Cambodia has slipped into the bottom half of the table, dropping five points on the positivity scale from 72 to 67 percent, undoing most of its six percent gain from 2011.

More worryingly, perhaps, considering the survey was carried out in May 2013, before the disputed national election and the outbreak of widespread garment protests, 42 percent of Cambodians reported negative emotions, ranking it the world’s ninth most negative country.

Gallup measured these “positive emotions” by asking 1,000 people in each country whether they “experienced lots of enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, feeling well-rested…being treated with respect” the previous day, before using the data to give Positive Experience Index score for each country.

The same 1,000 people were asked whether they experienced a lot of anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry the previous day, with the results tallied in a Negative Experience Index score.

Adding the negative score—42—to the positive score—67 gets an overspill of nine percent, suggesting that Cambodia is populated fairly evenly with happy people and pessimists, with a small borderline proportion displaying a touch of both.

Around Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh on a sunny afternoon Thursday, people asked about the survey were certain about one thing: that the scales would continue to tip in favor of negative emotions if the current political climate continues.

Vuth Heng, a 57-year-old former NGO worker, said that people with money and power would certainly be positive, but the rest of the country was more worried by the government’s current policies.

“People in Cambodia can now think and understand about the real situation in the country on sites like Facebook and comparing their situation with the outside world,” he said.

Chantha, 32, who gave only his first name, said corruption, government repressions and the large numbers of people migrating for work painted a picture of unhappiness.

Samron Theara, a 22-year-old information technology student, said he was generally a positive person, but added a caveat.

“Me and my friends are happy, but that’s because we have stayed away from protests where we would get beaten by police,” he said.

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