The 10 Happiest Countries On The Planet, Based On Environmental Factors

guatemala woman child

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

Money may not buy happiness after all—at least that’s what the New Economics Foundation (NEF) is saying. Earlier this month, NEF released its Happy Planet Index (HPI), which ranks the happiness of nations across the world based on environmental factors.Their findings aren’t what you’d expect if you were using traditional metrics like GNP and growth figures to measure happiness, which the UN releases its World Happiness Report. One of its authors—Columbia economist and one-man-poverty-panacea Jeffrey Sachs—does, however, note in the UN report’s introduction that “higher average incomes don’t necessarily improve average well-being.”

As Sachs points out, economist Richard Easterlin posited long ago that while the U.S. has tripled its GNP since the 1960, the country’s happiness index has remained relatively unchanged. Why? There are a bunch of reasons. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, populations have become generally distrustful of government, and if everybody rises together, relative happiness numbers remain unchanged. 

The NEF’s solution to all of this dubious data is to scrap the economic models and shift to an environmental one. The result? The NEF’s happiest countries aren’t what you’d initially expect.

#10 Guatemala

Happy Planet Index score: 56.9

2009 HPI Rank: #4

Experienced Well-Being: 6.3

Life Expectancy: 71.2

Ecological Footprint: 1.8

GDP Per Capita: $4,785 (around 1/10th of the USA's)

Population: 14.4 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#9 Venezuela

Happy Planet Index score: 56.9

2009 HPI Rank: #36

Experienced Well-Being: 7.5

Life Expectancy: 74.4

Ecological Footprint: 3.0

GDP Per Capita: $12,233 (around a quarter of the USA's)

Population: 28.8 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#8 Nicaragua

Happy Planet Index score: 57.1

2009 HPI Rank: #11

Experienced Well-Being: 5.7

Life Expectancy: 74

Ecological Footprint: 1.6

GDP Per Capita: $2,913 (less than 10% of the USA's)

Population: 5.8 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#7 Panama

Happy Planet Index score: 57.8

2009 HPI Rank: #18

Experienced Well-Being: 7.3

Life Expectancy: 76.1

Ecological Footprint: 3

GDP Per Capita: $13,608 (less than 30% of the USA's)

Population: 3.5 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#6 Jamaica

Happy Planet Index score: 58.5

2009 HPI Rank: #3

Experienced Well-Being: 6.2

Life Expectancy: 73.1

Ecological Footprint: 1.7

GDP Per Capita: $7,673 (around a sixth of the USA's)

Population: 2.7 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

'To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#5 El Salvador

Happy Planet Index score: 58.9

2009 HPI Rank: #8

Experienced Well-Being: 6.7

Life Expectancy: 72.2

Ecological Footprint: 2

GDP Per Capita: $6,668 (around 15% of the USA's)

Population: 6.2 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#4 Belize

Happy Planet Index score: 59.3

2009 HPI Rank: #27

Experienced Well-Being: 6.5

Life Expectancy: 76.1

Ecological Footprint: 2.1

GDP Per Capita: $6,670 (around 15% of the USA's)

Population: 345,000

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#3 Colombia

Happy Planet Index score: 59.8

2009 HPI Rank: #6

Experienced Well-Being: 6.4

Life Expectancy: 73.7

Ecological Footprint: 1.8

GDP Per Capita: $9,453 (around a fifth of the USA's)

Population: 46.3 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#2 Vietnam

Happy Planet Index score: 60.4

2009 HPI Rank: #5

Experienced Well-Being: 5.8

Life Expectancy: 75.2

Ecological Footprint: 1.4

GDP Per Capita: $3,205 (less than 10% of the USA's)

Population: 86.9 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

#1 Costa Rica

Happy Planet Index score: 60.4

2009 HPI Rank: #5

Experienced Well-Being: 5.8

Life Expectancy: 75.2

Ecological Footprint: 1.4

GDP Per Capita: $3,205 (less than 10% of the USA's)

Population: 86.9 million

Source: Happy Planet Index

To calculate HPI, the NEF multiplies a country's life expectancy by a 0-10 quality-of-life figure called 'Experienced Well-Being.' That figure is then divided by a nation's 'Ecological Footprint'--a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country's consumption patterns.

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