For 2016, the HPI seeks to move away from purely economic measures of happiness and instead ranks countries by how much happiness they get from the amount of environmental resources used. The HPI measures a country’s happiness in relation to the wellbeing, life expectancy and social inequality and then dividing it by its ecological footprint.
The overall results highlight success stories in Latin America and Asia Pacific, where residents enjoy relatively high and equally distributed life expectancy and wellbeing, while leaving a smaller ecological footprint than other more advanced economies.
In the top 10 are 3 of the six Central American countries: Costa Rica (1), Panama (6) and Nicaragua (7). In the top 10 are also Mexico (2), Colombia (3) and Ecuador (4).
While the list is topped by many Latin American countries: Argentina is 19, Peru is 21, Brazil is 23, and Venezuela is 29, larger western countries perform less well: the UK (before Brexit) is 34, France is 44, Italy comes in at 60, Canada at 85 and the U.S. ranks at 108.
What does success look like?
According to the HPI, in Costa Rica, people are living longer, and are more satisfied with life than people living in the U.S. What really sets the country apart is that it manages to combine long, happy lives with an environmental impact that’s little more than one third of the size of the USA’s.
What’s the secret to Costa Rica’s success?
Abolishing its army (in 1948) and reallocating resources to funding education, health and pensions and the culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods are among the factors that contributing to Costa Rican’s high wellbeing.
Environmental protection and renewable resources – 99% of electricity used there comes from renewable sources – has placed Costa Rica far ahead of many wealthier nations, the government having committed the country to becoming carbon neutral by 2021.
The HPI report says that, while Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, it still has some way to go before its Ecological Footprint of 2.8 global hectares per capita reaches the sustainable level of 1.7 global hectares per capita. Like every nation, Costa Rica has more work to do to reach the ultimate goal of truly sustainable wellbeing.
But its success, scoring top place on the HPI, demonstrates that there are alternatives to the development paths that have been followed in the West. It provides a shining example of a country that is well on its way to creating good lives that don’t cost the Earth.
In second place is Mexico despite the country being plagued by growing corruption and gang violence. Colombia was named in third place on the list, with good scores for both happiness and eco-footprint. Fourth is Vanuatu a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands. In fifth place is Vietnam, followed by Panama in sixth and Nicaragua seventh. Bangladesh, ranking eight is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Ninth is Thailand. And rounding out the top 10 is Ecuador in tenth spot of the world’s 140.
Top 10 happy countries.
1. Costa Rica
Top 10 unhappy countries
133. Sierra Leone
135. Cote D’Ivoire