Inside Spain: Why Spaniards are 'unhappy' and their adulation of the British press

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Inside Spain: Why Spaniards are 'unhappy' and their adulation of the British press
Spaniards are not as happy many would have thought according to the World Happiness Report, and sometimes they seem to care more what the UK press has to say about them their own press. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

In this week’s Inside Spain review, we explain why Spain’s mediocre World Happiness Report ranking should be taken with a pinch of salt and the stark differences in which the Spanish and British press report about each other’s countries.


This week, the UN released its annual World Happiness Report for 2024 and Spain yet again came in at a very average 36th place out of 143 countries. It’s actually dropped four places compared to 2023’s report.

Finland, which until recently had one of the highest suicide rates in the world, claimed top spot. 

Israel, in the midst of war with Hamas in Gaza, took fifth place. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have questionable human rights records and where local women have fewer rights than men, came in 22nd and 28th place respectively. 

The US, with its ample share of polarisation, inequality, gun violence and concerns over who will be in the White House for the next four years, is the world’s 23rd ‘happiest’ place.

And yes, the UK, a nation renowned for taking pride in its own misery and relishing the unhappiness of others, ranked 20th globally. 

¿Qué está pasando aquí? (What’s going on here?). How is it possible that Spaniards - who seem fundamentally happy according to anyone who’s lived or visited Spain - have told scientists from the Gallup World Poll that their lives are a bit ‘meh’ at best?

Spain’s lowly ranking is even more surprising when looking at the categories used to rank a country’s quality of life: life expectancy, social support, freedom, generosity, income and perception of corruption, which apart from the last two Spain excels at. 


All is not well in Spain, that’s for sure. Bureaucratic labyrinths, low wages, few job opportunities, entrepreneurial obstacles, rising rents and house prices are all factors that can influence life satisfaction. However, many of you will agree that it doesn't stop Spaniards from smiling, laughing and enjoying life with their friends and loved ones. 

Let’s get back to the ‘why the low ranking’ question. El País attempted to answer the question in 2023, without really getting to the bottom of it. 

They didn’t explore one theory, however. Whereas people from other nations will be quick to say “I’m fine” when they clearly aren’t, Spaniards love to complain about virtually everything, even the trivial stuff, but in the end through a combination of evasion and good company, they’re capable of finding what most would interpret to be happiness.

Which brings us to our other topic of this week’s Inside Spain newsletter: the differences between how the Spanish press reports on what the UK press says about Spain and how the British press writes about Spain. 

Spain’s media industry doesn’t have tabloid newspapers, even though its sports newspapers (the most read and sold in the country) and its gossip magazines certainly display similar traits to those of The Sun, The Daily Mail and company (with less of a propensity to nastiness however).

A stark difference is that Spanish newspapers will often report on British newspapers writing about Spain, which reflects that there’s more of an admiration for them and interest in knowing what the UK is saying about Spain. Often, it borders on adulation: “The best beach in Spain, according to The Times”, “The best city to visit, according to The Guardian”. Do they not know themselves what their prettiest beaches and towns are? Can they not trust their own rankings and experts? The Spanish press has nothing to envy about British newspapers, nor are the opinions of UK journalists any more valid than theirs.


On the flipside, you’ll struggle to ever find The Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph write a story about what El Mundo or ABC had to say about the latest chapter in the Brexit saga, what they think of Rishi Sunak or where the best seaside town in Blighty is. 

One of the only times British tabloids will report on Spain is when something has happened that could cause offence to their readers and spur them to angrily write “we’ll take our money elsewhere” or “they need us more than we need them”.

Rather than quoting Spanish papers for less inflammatory articles, they’ll rely on the opinion of an “expat” for the inside scoop on the best place to visit in Spain this summer or where to buy a Spanish home, but hardly ever what Spanish newspapers or columnists have to say. 

There are of course serious and reliable British correspondents reporting on Spain for UK broadsheets, but the sad truth is that a sense of inferiority on the part of the Spanish press and superiority in some British news outlets is perceivable in their reporting. 


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