Happy Planet Index: Happiest country in the world named as Costa Rica

With a low carbon footprint and investment in education and healthcare the central American nation comes out top

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The Independent Online

The tiny South American republic of Costa Rica has been named the most sustainably happy country in the world.

The Happy Planet Index report, published by the New Economics Foundation, 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. 

Happiness is calculated by measuring a country’s happiness in relation to the wellbeing, life expectancy and social inequality and then dividing it by its ecological footprint. 

While the list is topped by many Latin American countries, larger western countries perform less well. The UK comes in at just 34, while the USA ranks at 108.

Costa Rica sealed first place, with 99% of its electricity coming from renewable sources - meaning its population uses a fraction of the resources used by other countries in the West.

The report noted it also abolished its army in 1949 and reinvested the money in health and education programmes.

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.

But at the other end, Chad comes out at the bottom.

This is due to its large ecological footprint as an oil-producing nation and the fact that it suffers from a high poverty rate and inadequate infrastructure.

Internal instability is also a factor with the Muslim north often clashing with the Christian south - tensions which have been exacerbated by attacks by Boko Haram insurgents as they are pushed out of neighbouring Nigeria.

According to the UN, life expectancy is 49 years for men and 52 years for women. 

It was ranked as marginally worse than 139th-placed Luxembourg, which despite being one of the wealthiest per capita countries in Europe has seen a marked decline in what economist Francesco Sarracino calls "social capital" - the quantity and quality of relationships which allow society to function properly.

Saamah Abdallah, Senior Wellbeing Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “The Happy Planet Index provides a compass to guide nations towards genuine progress, and shows that it is possible to live good lives without costing the Earth. We can learn much from smaller, often overlooked economies – making huge strides for their populations with limited resources.

 “Too often governments prioritise accelerated economic growth above all other concerns. They lose sight of what truly matters – long, happy, sustainable lives for people around the world.”

Top 10 happiest countries

1. Costa Rica

2. Mexico

3. Colombia

4. Vanuatu

5. Vietnam

6. Panama

7. Nicaragua

8. Bangladesh

9. Thailand

10. Ecuador

Top 10 unhappy countries

131. Burundi

132. Swaziland

133. Sierra Leone

134. Turkmenistan

135. Cote D’Ivoire

136. Mongolia

137. Benin

138. Togo

139. Luxembourg

140. Chad

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