Is Costa Rica the Happiest Country on Earth?

June 20, 2012
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Costa Rica is one of the most popular ecotourism destinations in the world, and the 2012 Happy Planet Index (HPI) recently named the Central American nation the happiest country on the planet. To determine the ranking of 151 nations, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in the U.K. analyzes countries based on their average life expectancies, ecological footprints and experienced well-being.

Experienced well-being is determined using data from a question on the Gallup World Poll called the "Ladder of Life." Survey respondents are asked to rank their quality of life based on where they stand on the ladder. The bottom, or zero, is the worst, and 10 is the highest. This is multiplied by average life expectancy to determine "Happy Life Years" and that number is divided by the ecological footprint. The footprint, determined by World Wildlife Fund, is the amount of land needed to sustain a country's consumption needs.

The HPI measures countries on a scale of 0 to 100, and the organization hopes all nations will aspire to have an index number of about 89 by 2050. Costa Rica's score this year was 64, which shows even the most sustainable nations have a long way to go to meet these aspirations. The nation had an experience well-being score of 7.3 and a life expectancy of 79.3 years, which ranked 13th and 28th best among the 151 countries analyzed in the index. Costa Rica's ecological footprint score of 2.5 falls within the second best range, but still has room for improvement. A smaller number is better. The U.S. had a score of 7.2 while Bangladesh has an impressive 0.7, to put it in perspective.

"Countries like Costa Rica outrank the U.K. in the Happy Planet Index because their inhabitants live long and happy lives using a fraction of the planet's resources that we do," said Saamah Abdallah, a senior researcher at U.K-based NEF. "They point the direction towards a development model that can achieve healthy, happy and sustainable lives."

Costa Rica ecotravel enthusiasts who want to visit will not only be able to take in the beautiful wildlife and unique Costa Rican cuisine, but they may learn a thing or two about sustainable living during their vacation.


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