For Turkmens lack of ‘worry’ is not the same as ‘enjoying life’

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published a working paper with Wellbeing Rankings for 215 geographical locations using data from the Gallup World Poll and the US Daily Tracker Poll for 2008-2017. These include 164 countries, the 50 states of the United States and the District of Colombia.

Traditional approach of ranking countries by their gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is not sufficient to determine how “well” countries are doing relative to one another. Wellbeing can be influenced by subjective perceptions of well-being, on one’s location, who they are with, what they are doing, as well as the temperature, sunlight, presence of water and green space in their environment among many other things. NBER’s ranking is based on the summary of 8 wellbeing measures: 4 positive affect measures – life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling and being well-rested – and 4 negative affect variables – pain, sadness, anger and worry. Using these 8 measures they create a final summary index, based on which Hawaii ranks number 1 and Iraq ranks 215 on wellbeing.

On Wellbeing Index Turkmenistan ranks 120, which is the worst performer in Central Asia:

  • Uzbekistan – 52
  • Kazakhstan – 82
  • Kyrgyzstan – 92
  • Tajikistan – 113
  • Turkmenistan -120

When countries are ranked according to positive and negative affect there is a considerable difference in country rankings. For instance, Turkmenistan ranks 98 on negative measures and it ranks 120 using positive measures (see Table 1). Turkmenistan’s wellbeing ranking looks better when using negative affect. This may mean that when people in Turkmenistan are asked about their wellbeing using negative words, they tend to value their wellbeing higher than when they are asked using positive words. Meanwhile, many advanced countries such as the USA rank lower on negative than positive affect.

Table 1. Positive, negative and overall rankings for Central Asian countries, 2008-2017.

Moreover, Turkmenistan ranks higher on negative measures such as worry (9) while ranking low on positive measures such as smile (204) and enjoy (135). The lack of worry does not necessarily mean that people in Turkmenistan smile and enjoy their lives.

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