The Happy Planet Index (HPI), compiled by the New Economics Foundation (NEF, based in the UK), ranks countries across the globe in terms of sustainable well-being. The HPI attempts to measure the health and happiness that countries produce per unit of environmental input, using data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and sustainability (ecological footprint). The 2012 Index, published just ahead of the United Nations Earth Summit (Rio+20), is topped by Costa Rica with a score of 64.0. Of the Index’s top-ten countries, eight are in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Belize (fourth place, score: 59.3), Jamaica (sixth, 58.5) and Venezuela (ninth, 56.9). None of the top ten countries are among the world’s richest, as most rich countries are dragged down by their global footprint. Other Caribbean countries included in the HPI ranking are Cuba (twelfth, 56.2), Guyana (thirty-first, 51.2), the Dominican Republic (thirty-third, 50.7), Haiti (seventy-eighth, 41.3) and Trinidad & Tobago (one-hundred-thirty-sixth, 30.3).
Kate Fischer, an American doctoral candidate in Anthropology doing research in Costa Rica, provides her opinion for Pulsamerica.
Once again, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has named Costa Rica the happiest country on the planet. The announcement has been met with skepticism and confusion, as well as what might be called pity for the rest of the world. “If Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth,” one man told me, “how bad must things be everywhere else?” Comments on the various blogs, newspapers, and Facebook pages that reported on the ranking were similar: “Is it really measuring stupidity?” “No thanks to the current government,” and “I’d rather be unhappy like the French, the North Americans, the Swedes…”
A few commenters and people with whom I have spoken have ventured that perhaps Costa Ricans should be more appreciative of what they have, and recognize that problems with politicians, bureaucracy, and the like are not limited to Costa Rica. And of course, to be named the happiest country on earth is marketing gold. Since the rankings were first released in 2009 this designation has been used for tourism, particularly the “Gift of Happiness” campaign, as well as a presidential report to the United Nations on Development and Wellbeing.
But is this really a way to measure happiness. As newspaper El Financiero points out, most of the top-ten HPI countries would also fall into another top-ten list: most violent. The article blasts the report for its “anti-consumption” and “anti-development” bias, resulting in “an image of happiness that consists in humble people who don’t consume a lot. This according to investigators who live in London, no less.”
El Financiero is not wrong: the New Economics Foundation is quite explicit that it thinks the world needs new models for ‘development’ and that money is not all that matters. What the Happy Planet Index measures in part is future happiness: what kind of world are current inhabitants leaving to their children? The trifold ranking criteria seems to argue that you can’t find this out simply by asking people how great their life is, because this ignores the cost of that life. Sorting the data by well-being figures makes Denmark the happiest on earth, and only Venezuela remains in the top ten (Costa Rica is tied for 14th, along with Austria, Panama, and Ireland). Yet Denmark’s ecological footprint is more than three times Costa Rica’s, and almost five times the world’s biocapacity. Complaints about politicians and corruption notwithstanding, maybe Costa Rica really is getting something right.
The full, original opinion piece can be found at http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/parentesis/2012/06/19/the-happiest-place-on-earth.