Forget the economic crisis, we're the happiest nation in Europe

The weather may be terrible and the economy falling to pieces, but a new study claims we are the happiest nation in Europe.

The Happy Planet Index shows the UK ranks highest for "sustainable well-being" in Europe. The index is created by first calculating "Happy Life Years" by adjusting a country's experienced well-being to its life expectancy.

This figure is then divided by the country's ecological footprint – the amount of land required to sustain its consumption patterns. But the index also shows that we lag far behind many countries that are traditionally considered "less developed", such as front- runners Costa Rica and Vietnam.

Happy Planet Index founder Nick Marks said that it is "the first global index of sustainable well-being".

"We created the Happy Planet Index to highlight the tension between creating good lives now and good lives in the future," he said.

"The ultimate outcome of a nation is how successful it is at creating happy and healthy lives for its citizens."

The index does seem to conform to perceived global trends.

Using Gallup data from 2007 and 2010, the report's authors showed how recession-ridden Spain and Greece experienced sharp falls in sustainable happiness in the past four years.

The UK came 41st out of 151 countries, and while it is the most sustainably happy country in Europe, some of the countries that outrank it may surprise some.

War-torn Iraq and Palestine (counted as a country for the report's purposes), for instance, rank 36th and 30th respectively. On the other hand, the USA lags far behind, at number 105.

The UK's position is low compared to other less economically developed countries because we require a large amount of land to sustain our consumption – some 4.7 "global hectares" compared with the "global fair share" of 1.7 hectares.

The report's co-author, Juliet Michaelson, explained that while the UK might have scored the best in Europe, our position was "within the margin of error" compared with France and Germany.

She said the Government could increase the UK's ranking on the scale by introducing policies to reduce unemployment, reduce working hours and reduce our environmental impact.

Ms Michaelson said: "The upcoming discussions at the Rio+20 Earth Summit are the key to whether we can make our economy environmentally sustainable."

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