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Are Cambodians The Happiest People On Earth?

by on September 3, 2012

in Cambodia

Cambodian Smiles

Cambodian Smiles

As I learned about all the horrible things that have happened here in Cambodia over the years, and fresh off the horrible things I learned in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m in the wrong country.

Cambodia is very poor. It ranks 147 out of 183 measured countries on the IMF’s GDP per capita scale coming in at $2216/year.

On this list of the happiest countries in the world, Cambodia comes in almost exactly at the bottom.

Yet while I’ve been here, I’ve seen nothing but smiles. Seriously.

Cambodian Smiles

Cambodian Smiles

Admittedly, I haven’t ventured far out beyond the cities. I haven’t gone off the grid like I did in Latin America. I’m still getting a handle on things here and the opportunity to go off the grid didn’t present itself.

But still. I never saw Cambodians arguing. I never saw one lose his or her cool. They seemed to be the most laid back people I’ve ever met in my life, actually.

Cambodian Smiles

Cambodian Smiles

When I first got to Cambodia and was extolling how wonderful Vietnam was, everyone kept telling me how aggressive the Vietnamese are. By comparison, yes, the Vietnamese are much more aggressive than the Cambodians.

And I don’t know, there’s something about the way people smile here. In many developing countries people have very bad teeth since dental care is very expensive. When I volunteered with Cape Cares in Honduras, for example, they just pulled teeth because it was what was normal and what was practical. Still, the people waited for the dentists to do it since they had anesthesia.

Cambodian Smiles

Cambodian Smiles

But here, people have amazingly straight and perfect teeth. I’m not sure how, but they do.

But the teeth don’t make a smile. If you fake a smile it’s obvious. Everyone here smiles all the time and my fakeness detector doesn’t go off. They all seem genuine, even when I turn down the tuk-tuks that wait on every corner for customers. They just keep on smiling.

A "No Problem" Attitude

A “No Problem” Attitude

So I don’t know what it is. My hypothesis at the start of this trip was that people are often happier in poorer countries. About a year into my trip I still have a hard time explaining it.

I don’t know what it is here in Cambodia, but I suppose the history has something to do with it. Any Cambodian my age probably grew up hearing the horror stories from the Khmer Rouge genocide and forced slavery. And those who are older lived through it.

Given that context, times are probably relatively good, though by comparison to other places it’s not so good. But when you live through a genocide, life is kind of like a miracle. And maybe the people here live each day like it’s a miracle.

I suppose when every day is a miracle, you see things you wouldn’t otherwise see – things that make you smile.

About Adam Pervez

In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen September 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Haven’t been in Cambodia but I guess Filipinos are the happiest people, for me. :p hey Adam! i’ve found your site thru your CS profile. Enjoy Cagayan de Oro and Davao :)

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Adam Pervez September 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thanks! Nah, I think Cambodians are still happier. But it’s just my opinion. Maybe CdO and Davao will change my opinion though :) But you know what would really make me happy is if they’d stop blasting music outside where I’m staying at 12:45am… :)

Reply

Sopheak August 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Hi, I am a Cambodian. Of course we like to smile and treat other nations like our family. I notice that even some Filipinos like to come to live in Cambodia. The different thing is that poor people’ smile is more beautiful than rich peoples’. :D Because, less things to care than to survive.

We are going be even happier if there is no corruptions and real democracy. Another great thing today is that Cambodian youths are convinced to stand for Democracy. :D

Kathleen you should come to Cambodia when you have a chance. :)

I hope you understand my English. :)

Reply

the ninja from philippines December 18, 2013 at 7:50 am

This is so true! Everyone’s just smiling all over me here in Siem Reap! At first it creeps me out but I got used to it and felt really moved and touched!!! Such nice people!!

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