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Costa Rica the happiest place on Earth, says new report

July 3, 2009

Happy to be here? Costa Rica tops a new list of the happiest countries on the planet compiled by an independent research group in Britain.

In the second Happy Planet Index (HPI) calculated by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica shot ahead of its third-place spot in the original index released in 2006 (TT, Aug. 4, 2006). Vanuatu, an archipelago in the south Pacific, was the happiest and Colombia placed second in the 2006 index.

The country scores 76.1 out of 100 on the new HPI, which measures life expectancy, satisfaction and a country´s environmental footprint. The index was released Saturday.

“As well as reporting the highest life satisfaction in the world, Costa Ricans also have the second-highest average life expectancy of the New World (second only to Canada). All this with a footprint of 2.3 global hectares,” reads the HPI (available for download at www.happyplanetindex.org ).

Another reason to cheer in this region: Earth´s 10 happiest countries are all – with the exception of one – in Latin America and the Caribbean. Following Costa Rica, they are the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, Vietnam, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Brazil and Honduras.

Nicaragua came in 11th.

Some of the wealthiest nations fell somewhere in the middle of the 143-nation list. The United States, however, ranked 114th, sandwiched between Madagascar and Nigeria. The researchers placed their native United Kingdom 74th, just after Slovakia and before Japan and Spain.

Considering the hardships this region has endured over the years, what are Latinos smiling about?

The report explains, “Survey data reveals two key features of Latin American culture. One is the presence of relatively unmaterialistic (sic) aspirations and values, compared to countries with similar economic conditions. Latin Americans report being much less concerned with material issues than, for example, they are with their friends and family. Secondly, social capital is particularly strong in the region. Civil society is very active, from religious groups to workers´ groups to environmental groups….”

African countries are at the bottom of the list, with Zimbabweans ranked as the saddest (143) in the world, according to the Index.

Anticipating questions about why developed nations rank poorly, the research group argues on index Web site, “governments have been concentrating on the wrong indicators for too long. If you have the wrong map, you are unlikely to reach your destination.”

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