Ask a random person what the Colombian people are most famous for, and the answer may well depend on whether they’ve met many Colombians in their time.
Someone well acquainted with a Colombiano or two might tell you that Colombians are some of the most irrepressibly friendly folk you’re ever likely to meet. They might describe your stereotypical Colombian as energetically social, outgoing and a little boisterous at times. This ‘typical’ Colombian is passionate when speaking their mind yet almost invariably warm and polite, deeply affectionate among friends and kind to strangers. The Colombian loves to party, venerates and adores their family, and is so enthusiastic about life in general their non-Colombian friends can occasionally find them exhausting.
In other words, Colombians, as a whole, are a pretty damn happy bunch of humans.
But don’t just take our word for it.
There’s hard, scientific evidence that proves Colombians are some of the happiest people on earth.
COLOMBIA: HAPPINESS WORLD CHAMPIONS
The annual Gallup International poll attempts to rank the overall happiness of a country’s population by asking questions like: “As far as you are concerned, do you personally feel happy, unhappy or neither happy nor unhappy about your life?” Whether this question is really an accurate way to measure human happiness on a collective scale is up for debate, but it seems to work well for the Colombians.
Colombia has topped the rankings for the World’s Happiest Country several times in the last few years. Most recently, they were declared the planet’s most contented citizens in 2016. In the last survey conducted in 2017, Colombia narrowly missed out on first place to the Fijians, who we’ll readily admit are worthy competitors in the World Happiness stakes.
BUT WHY ARE COLOMBIANS SO HAPPY?
If you’ve been to Colombia, you’ll have quickly discovered just how outwardly cheerful, positive, welcoming, and at times downright exuberant the vibe is in much of the country. Even in a big, seemingly stressful city like Medellin, you can walk the streets and expect to be greeted with genuine smiles, polite curiosity and affable conversation wherever you go.
In Medellin, I poised the question to a local Paisa. “Why are you Colombians so damn happy all the time?”
TINY TRIUMPHS IN TRYING TIMES
Not so long ago, life wasn’t so easy for my Paisa friend. In fact, growing up as a young man in 90s Medellin wasn’t just tough, it was downright dangerous. Even before the drug war broke out, Colombia was already weighed down by decades of conflict and political unrest. For generations of Colombians, poverty, powerlessness and the ever-present threat of violence were part of everyday life.
My Paisa friend explained that trauma and grief are an inextricable part of the Colombian collective psyche. But both despite this, and because of it, so are resilience and the determination to seek out and treasure every precious moment of enjoyment, humour and love amid times of tragedy. How else, he asked, would we Colombians have survived? “We focus on the good things in life, no matter how small.”
FIVE MORE REASONS WHY COLOMBIANS ARE SO CHEERFUL
1. NATIONAL PRIDE
Colombians are a patriotic bunch and unabashedly vocal when it comes to talking up their country’s natural beauty, it’s magnificent culture and its beautiful people. They’ll tell you all about Colombian coffee (the best in the world), Colombian salsa dancers (the best), Colombian emeralds (also the best in the world) and proudly assure you that Colombian Spanish is the best Spanish spoken in the world.
Football is more than a game in Colombia, it’s a unifying force. Attend a football match in Colombia and the atmosphere is exhilarating and emotional, as parties erupt across the stadium and fans celebrate with wild abandon. At the 2014 World Cup, Colombia scored their best ever performance, making it to third place. By the way the entire nation carried on, anyone would think the championship was theirs.
3. HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS
With around 20 national holidays each calendar year, Colombians spend a considerable amount of time in celebration mode. A plethora of regional holidays held around the country mean even more excuses for unabashed public revelling. Expect outdoor concerts, colourful parades and public streets inundated by surging masses of enraptured dancers. Some of the most famous festivals include the Barranquilla Carnival, Medellin’s Festival de las Flores, Feria de Cali (Cali’s annual salsa fair) and the Carnaval de Negros y Blanco (Pasto’s extraordinary six day long ‘Black and White’ carnival).
4. MUSIC AND DANCING
Music and dance lie at the very heart of Colombian culture. Colombian music is a vibrant melting pot of Spanish, European, Afro and Latin Caribbean influences, all of which can be heard in the country’s defining genre, cumbia, with its tropical rhythms, hip-switching grooves, explosive horns and stirring vocals. Colombians embrace all styles of Latin music – the more danceable, the better! Passionate, sensual, romantic, energetic and spirited, Colombia’s love of Latin rhythms plays an undeniable role in the shared willingness to embrace the joys of life wholeheartedly.
An April 2013 edition of Time Magazine featured a photo of then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on the cover and the blurb and headline “the Colombian Comeback. From nearly failed state to global player – in less than a decade”. This, in a nutshell is the story of contemporary Colombia. While things are far from perfect, they’re improving at a rate almost nobody predicted less than two decades ago. Colombia is working hard to build up and maintain a politically stable landscape. As it does so, it opens doors to a new era of economic and social progress, and a more self-empowered, optimistic and hopeful Colombia. Colombians are a people of faith – faith in a better tomorrow.
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)