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Map of the Week: Why Costa Rica is the happiest place

Mark Easton | 08:00 UK time, Saturday, 4 July 2009

"Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth."

I wonder how Gordon Brown reacted when he read these opening words in the Sustainable Development Commission's report Prosperity Without Growth
published in March this year. (The Commission is a public body set up to advise the prime minister on sustainable development.)

And I wonder how he might respond to today's news that, when one compares levels of sustainability and well-being internationally, Britain comes a miserable 74th in the world. Number one is Costa Rica.

The analysis, by the think tank nef, is bound to be controversial because it requires us to reconsider what we mean by progress. If you are reading this and believe that the success of a country is calculated by its wealth, this may prove disconcerting.

What nef, Sustainable Development Commission, UK government, European Commission and even the OECD all appear to agree on is that we need a better evaluation of progress than simple GDP.

It is argued that the measure of a successful nation needs to reflect some measure of life satisfaction and the environmental sustainability of that society. Simply being rich is not the point any more.

So nef has come up with a formula for international comparison: the Happy Planet Index (HPI). First conducted in 2006, today sees the publication of the second round of data, including a map of the world based on the HPI. And here it is.


According to nef, "the results turn our idea of progress on its head". Well, I certainly would not have predicted that the most successful countries on the planet are in Central and Latin America. Indeed, the researchers seem slightly surprised by the results:

"Let's not beat about the bush. The region has had, and continues to have, its fair share of misery: decades of civil wars and coups, the destruction of the Amazon, sharp inequality, and the favelas and slums of metropolises from Mexico City to Sao Paulo. For some, the region represents a sad tale of lost opportunity."

Hmm. Doesn't sound like paradise to me, but despite all of this, nine of the top ten countries in the HPI are in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Here's how nef works it out:

"The HPI is an efficiency measure: the degree to which long and happy lives (life satisfaction and life expectancy are multiplied together to calculate happy life years) are achieved per unit of environmental impact."

So first, one can look at life expectancy around the globe.


The highest life expectancies tend to be in rich developed countries. Western Europe, North America, Japan, Hong Kong and Australasia glow green while, at the other end of the table, Africa is largely red. The coincidence of longevity ratings and continental boundaries makes the world look, fittingly perhaps, like a Risk board.

The next component of the formula is life satisfaction. This is found by asking people what is now the standard question to assess what is called "subjective well-being": All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?


At first glance, it appears that rich Western countries dominate again, but closer inspection reveals that almost a third of the top 35 countries have a GDP per capita of less than $20,000. According to the nef analysis, "the country with the highest reported life satisfaction - and by some margin - is Costa Rica (8.5 on a scale of 0-10, compared with 8.1 for Ireland, Norway and Denmark)".

The final element of the HPI score is the size of a country's ecological footprint. The report explains the thinking like this: "To achieve one-planet living, a country must keep its ecological footprint below the level that corresponds to its fair share given the world's current biocapacity and population - 2.1 global hectares (or gha) in 2005." So a country with a score of 2.1 achieves one planet living. Over 4.2 is two planet living, and so on. Inevitably, rich, consumer societies fare badly on this measure.


The countries with the smallest per capita footprints are among the poorest: Malawi, Haiti and Bangladesh. The clod-hopping countries with the biggest ecological footprints are Luxembourg (10.2 gha), the United Arab Emirates (9.5 gha) and the United States of America (9.4 gha) - all using four times their fair share of global resources. Interestingly, the Netherlands achieve the same level of happy life years as the USA, but with a footprint less than half the size (4.4 gha).

After all the maths has been done, it is Costa Rica and its neighbours which come out top. The researchers put it this way:

"Latin Americans report being much less concerned with material issues than, for example, they are with their friends and family. Civil society is very active, from religious groups to workers' groups to environmental groups.
Some have mocked the high levels of reported life satisfaction in Latin American countries as belying a lack of knowledge of anything better (i.e. Western lifestyles). On the contrary, Latin America is perhaps more exposed to North American culture than anywhere else in the developing world. Yet somehow it has been more resistant to idolising this lifestyle, or at least more able to be happy with its own way of life despite this influence.
Pura vida is a popular expression in Costa Rica which is used somewhat like the English term 'cool'. It translates literally as 'pure life' and represents in itself an attitude to what is important."

Looking at the UK's position below Bosnia and Romania, perhaps we could do with a bit of Pura Vida ourselves?



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  • 1. At 08:45am on 04 Jul 2009, oldsaxon wrote:

    I think it's definitely an interesting - and valuable - take, but I don't like the way sustainability is handled. If what's important right now are life expectancy and satisfaction, then those are the things we want to be sustainable. So perhaps a true measure of sustainability ought to take into account factors such as

    Sustainability of demographics (e.g. emmigration, aging population)
    Sustainability of economy, wealth & public services
    Stability of government
    Prospect of peace
    Environmental risk (e.g. Bangladesh is at risk of floods)
    Environmental recklessness (this is the measure used already).

    Still, the more different viewpoints we have on success, the better, so this is interesting to see.

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  • 2. At 09:27am on 04 Jul 2009, watriler wrote:

    We will need to learn from these not so well off but happy countries how we can wean ourselves from the obsession that maximising material possessions is the be all and end all of a good life - if only because our way is no longer sustainable.

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  • 3. At 09:43am on 04 Jul 2009, ishkandar wrote:

    How on Earth did Mexico, the kidnapping and murder capital of the world, get into the second best band especially when the drug gangs are battling it out in the streets with each other and with the government ?? Life satisfaction ?? Hah !!

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  • 4. At 10:03am on 04 Jul 2009, Anaxim wrote:

    I have to disagree with this report. It seems very much like a contemporary version of the old lie that the poor are happy, simple, contented folk without a care in the world.

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  • 5. At 10:23am on 04 Jul 2009, cooltheban wrote:

    More proof if we needed it that you can do anything with statistics. Were the respondents city or country dwellers? Is there a hidden assumption that being able to pursue material goods is not in itself a 'good'? If you have no hope of bettering your material situation you might well concentrate on other things such as family and friends. The less diverse a society in terms of the ways in which one can flourish the more the focus will be on the free things in life.

    It needs no survey to know where the peoples of the world would like to live - ask the borders agencies.
    Pursuit of material comfort is not incompatible with cultivation of friends and family, it is a question of balance and that is where a long hard look at some of the 'happier' societies would indeed do us no harm. Yet we can probably look closer to home at some of our own communities to learn some lessons on that front.

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  • 6. At 10:26am on 04 Jul 2009, asktheratas wrote:

    In order to test the conclusion of their analysis, nef should carry out another survey:

    Ask people in countries across the globe which country they most would like to live in the world.

    Judging by the migration patterns, I can predict that people from developed countries like Britain would prefer to stay put, while people from Central and Latin America would like to migrate to here.

    So if theyre happier than us in their less developed, crime-ridden, discriminatory (oh but they get a few marks for being green) countries; why are more of them so desperate to leave than us?

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  • 7. At 10:29am on 04 Jul 2009, Steffles wrote:

    You don't mention that Britain is actually midway down the table and ahead of Japan and Ireland and way ahead of the USA, which is 114th out of 143. Puts usual British self-laceration in some perspective...

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  • 8. At 10:32am on 04 Jul 2009, Jon Bath wrote:

    I'm not surprised that Costa Rica ranks as happiest country in the world. Ticos from my experience have been the friendliest, most helpful and polite people I've ever met. Costa Rica is after all a country so sure of it's own stability and security that they have abolished their armed forces despite being in one of the more unstable regions in the world. Pura Vida isn't just a phrase but a way of life we could all learn from.

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  • 9. At 10:33am on 04 Jul 2009, ollieishere2000 wrote:

    I think it shows that happiness in an inside job. I see nothing but unhappiness in the UK. People guage there happiness by having the flash car, the biggest television the best mobile phone, but once there needs are not met they look to other material goods to make them happy.

    I ve been to alot of developing countries and they appear more happy, despite living in deprivation, they always seem to manage a smile.

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  • 10. At 10:57am on 04 Jul 2009, Beef_Chegwin wrote:

    Your link to the PDF of the report returns a 404 error message. Link check much?

    See? I'm not happy.

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  • 11. At 10:59am on 04 Jul 2009, Peter Bolt wrote:

    There is so much nonsense in this "report" I really do not know where to start.
    How about "Life" ? Itcan be lived in reduced and or pain (physical or mental or both)for 70/80 years, being "sustained" by modern medicines etc
    Not pleasant but statisically sound.
    "Prosperity without growth" is just a silly slogan. Just stop and think.
    Your sons/daughters reach 17years they want a car/motorbike just like their friends. Later they (just like their friends) want to marry. They do not want to live at home with their parents, they want "their own place"(even if rented)
    And so on and so on.
    Would they be any happier without them ?
    I very much doubt it.
    Who will volunteer to be the first Parent to tell them that "Actually fedualism was quite a good scheme"
    All that education, so much knowledge, so little wisdom.

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  • 12. At 12:05pm on 04 Jul 2009, Rogerborg wrote:

    STOP THE PRESSES: A report produced by self-hating liberal middle class First Worlders concludes that liberal middle class First Wordlers hate themselves!

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  • 13. At 12:08pm on 04 Jul 2009, Paul_Ski wrote:

    Seems to me that the weighting applied to EF is the key to this table - and is not disclosed in the article. The higher the population density the lower you will appear in the table. Given this it's quite convenient that Greenland is missing from the analysis - I'd expect it to be streets ahead with such a large landmass but minuscule population.

    The EF rating is far too simplistic, a country with a large amount of inhospitable or non-productive land will automatically rate higher than a similar one where most of the land is in productive use.

    Sorry Mark, but could do better

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  • 14. At 12:26pm on 04 Jul 2009, SeanPF wrote:

    Whilst there is to scope to question the validity of their research and how they came to their conclusions, I can't really disagree with the findings. Costa Rica has been known for some time to be one of the most sustainable and well-managed countries in the world. Their tourism industry is first-class.

    Like someone above posted, Britain these days is the definiton of 'keeping up with the Jones's'. Everyone seems to want the latest this or that, or personalised number plates as a status symbol or the newest phone. This desperation to be seen to be up-to-date drives the unhappiness and anxiety to 'keep up'. Once people step outside of this and see other societies, the shallowness of this lifestyle strikes home.

    I have been to quite a few countries that can be described as 'less developed' ( i hate the term 3rd World). In every country all i found was one thing: people who were content with their lives. And not because they didn't know any different. They were all aware of the Western materialism (even in remote villages on island nations such as Fiji), but categorically did not want it and knew the consequences.

    Anyone who saw Trevor McDonald's Secret Carribean will have seen the Cubans who said they did not want anything to do with consumerism and were very happy with their lives. I think that we can learn a lot from places such as Costa Rica. In many travel brochures now and indeed books, people are looking for places untouched by western society, original, cultural places. There seems to be a sort of contempt towards materialism creeping in.

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  • 15. At 12:26pm on 04 Jul 2009, kingbigdave wrote:

    What a good survey! I completely agree with this. Materialism is dead - long live the pura vida. :)

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  • 16. At 12:39pm on 04 Jul 2009, snickhound wrote:

    While you should certainly take these findings with a healthy pinch of salt, it's just someone taking an alternative look at things - and hilarious that all these grumpy people are so negative about it!

    Having lived in Latin America, I would say that there is a lot of misery in many of these countries (although really not in Costa Rica, it's one of the most peaceful places in the world) - and there is definitely a lot of aspiration to wealth - but there is also often an indefatigable spirit and optimism that many lack in the UK.

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  • 17. At 1:02pm on 04 Jul 2009, mariansummerlight wrote:

    The correlation between waealth and happiness is low above a certian relatively modest standard of living. Once people,
    's needs are met additional wealth adds little to happiness.

    Indeed wealth creation, wanting more than you can afford, feeling that you are a loser unless you are making loads of money, buying into consumerism, status labels and celebrity culture may in fact make people constantly unsatisfied with their lives and therefore unhappy. Material insecurity makes m people stressed.

    Factoring in environmental impact perhaps skews the picture a little as many of the people in low impact countries cannot boast a reasonable basic standard of living. It masks the level of absolute poverty experienced by many.

    I think we need a more sophisticated measure of wealth and prosperity than GDP and this goes a way towards that. However to have any real relevence it needs to take into account access to the essentials of life - clean water, nutrition, education, health care, birth control, security, levels of violence and crime, democracy etc.

    These needs are not met in the richest countries, never mind the poorest, and many Americans have now been reduced to absolute poverty due to the very modest contraction in the economy.

    How would any society cope with contracting the economy to a sustainable level and remain capitalist which relies so heavily on generating wants, greed, selfishness ( what economists likes to call enlightened self interest - if that isn't an oxymoron I don't know what is) and competition with the resulting levels of inequality and over use of resources.

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  • 18. At 2:35pm on 04 Jul 2009, kaybraes wrote:

    The most surprising thing about it all is that someone actually thinks it's good value for money paying people to work for an organisation that comes up with garbage like this. Statistics can be made to fit any particular politically motivated pattern these people think is required.

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  • 19. At 3:14pm on 04 Jul 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    As always on this blog, some interesting and challenging ideas.

    Here's an idea of my own...If people are so happy in places like Jamaica and Romania - why are so many of them breaking every law in the book and even risking their lives to sneak into unhappy England?

    Perhaps they are buoyed up by the thought that their government is not stealing taxes off them to pay for nonsense like this report?

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  • 20. At 4:52pm on 04 Jul 2009, akaCarlangas wrote:

    I was born in England, but lived all my life in Costa Rica, so I know what I'm talking about. When the report mentions "the fair share of misery" in these countries, it lacks to say that Costa Rica is the only country in the region who has escaped to that truth. Costa Rica decided to have no army many years ago, and it's a well known democracy example all over the world. No decades of civil wars and coups here... + 5% percent of the world´s biodiversity in one of last places where environment it`s more or less taken care of. Sometimes, when people from european or northamerican countries talk about the lack of access to the "essentials of life - clean water, nutrition, education, health care, birth control, security, levels of violence and crime, democracy" they are a little bit mislead by the news in cnn. Come here and see the influence of the northamerican "culture" -if you can call that culture- and see poor people know exactly what there are missing materially. Costa Rica has around 92% literacy, one of the strongest health care systems in the region, free for everyone, an obvious low level of violence -if you compare it to Mexico, US-. A lot of problems here, there is no street without one or two big big holes, but I'm not a bit surprised about this result.
    If you come here and expect people to tell you they would rather live in UK or US than here, you might be up for a big big surprise.

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  • 21. At 5:34pm on 04 Jul 2009, stnylan wrote:

    You coudl save millions, or at least spend those millions more wisely, but reducing the number of managers in the NHS to a tenth of what they are now.

    When my local Acute Trust did an effiencicy drive, it hired more managers as a part of that strategy. Most of those appointed were friends of those already there. Funny though how natinoal media organisations aren't interested by local corruption like that. AFter all, it would mean having to leave your London comfort zone and actually do some work.

    Reducing Whitehall to a tenth of its current complement would also be good. Just divide them up into groups of ten, number then, roll a ten-sided dice, the one whose number keeps their job, the othres have to find real work.

    Of course, axe the BBC charter. Get rid of tax credits and the like. If you want to give those people money, don't bloody tax them in the first place.

    And calculate how much of our money in the EU goes to lazy French farmers and stop giving it.

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  • 22. At 5:38pm on 04 Jul 2009, stnylan wrote:

    What a patently silly index. The environmental thing is totally not relevant to discussion. Also, in no way accounts for simple different cultural outlooks.

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  • 23. At 5:44pm on 04 Jul 2009, balanced_ wrote:

    Jon112uk - A slight flaw in your logic - just because people want to come here doesn't _necessarily_ mean living here is better - we might just be better at marketing ourselves. Just because people want something, doesn't necessarily mean it is worth having (eg. cigarettes).

    Btw - to nip your 'the government is wasting my money' rant in the bud - the study was published by a think tank (as stated), not the sustainability commission, which was merely quoted as suggesting that economic growth doesn't = happiness.

    Unless you've actually lived in more than one country I don't think you can really judge the comparative benefits of different countries for yourself. Interesting then that both of the comments from people who've lived in elsewhere support the view of the nef. It's not out of the question that our view of other countries is biased by the media only reporting bad things that happen abroad...

    Peterbolt - why not prosperity without growth? Just because 'everyone else has one' doesn't mean you couldn't be happy without whatever it is. In fact it may only be the fact that 'everyone else has one' that means people are unhappy without it. You can live in a society with life-saving medicines without having live in a society where 17-year-olds need to be bought a car to keep them happy (I'm 26, never had a car, and perfectly happy thank you, in fact probably happier, from never having to tax it, get it mended, get upset about petrol prices, deal with road rage, get in accidents etc like some of my friends)

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  • 24. At 6:02pm on 04 Jul 2009, Peter Bolt wrote:

    Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs Balanced.@23
    "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher,the brewer,or the baker,that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
    We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self love,and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages"
    Adam Smith 1776.
    Without being flippant I too may (probably did) think like you.
    Alas, I am now 71, and (sadly) wiser.
    PS I have a son 40 years who has never owned a car He is no happier than my other son (38) who does.

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  • 25. At 6:04pm on 04 Jul 2009, blogward wrote:

    Has anyone besdies me noticed that the countries at the top of the table are mostly those with ready access to unadulterated hallucinogenics and narcotics? Explains it all, really.

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  • 26. At 7:06pm on 04 Jul 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    23. At 5:44pm on 04 Jul 2009, balanced_ wrote:

    "...Jon112uk - A slight flaw in your logic - just because people want to come here doesn't _necessarily_ mean living here is better - we might just be better at marketing ourselves...."

    Hi Balanced

    Reasonable hypothesis... but if that were true, once they had experienced both Jamaica/Romania and England for a period of time, wouldn't they all be queuing up to go back?

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  • 27. At 03:13am on 05 Jul 2009, estebanarias wrote:

    All folks !! Costa Rica pura vida !!! that's great news for us !! and for all those who think there's something wrong.. you are more than welcome to visit us.. or just take a quick online tour:
    to stay happy.. is more than just money..
    we are not like those weird movies... be informed..

    Pura Vida !


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  • 28. At 03:26am on 05 Jul 2009, nano_vr wrote:

    There`re very important facts that have been mentioned above about Costa Rica...we have some things that make us different from other countries in the region...the lack of armed forces, free mandatory education, democratic stability for decades, free health care system for everyone, a great one by the way, all services needed, like drinkable water coverage for around 97% of the population, there`s also 95% of literacy and an economy depending not only in agriculture anymore, but an uprising tourism industry and technology as our new main economic activities.
    We know what we lack in comparison to first world`s just that we are happy with what we have. I went to dental school for 6 years...I would be rich anywhere in the States or Europe but I`ll never become rich here, but I`m happy and enjoy what I do, specially when it comes to help people.
    Some people have posted comments saying that we migrate to US and Europe because we are not happy with our lives might be true for some people, mostly from other countries, but not many from mine, but they don`t see how millions of Europeans ( a lot of british) and Northamericans come every year to live for a week or two in the happiest country of the world surrounded by the, according to them, irrelevant environmental thing that brougt those millions here in the first place...I really think these people is comming for a taste of that happiness at least for a while, and is easy to find thounsands that decided never to leave and hold on to the pura vida live style for ever...that`s migrating too, right?
    Enjoy what you have, and think, like we Ticos do, that sometimes the grass is greener in our own side.
    Greetings from the happiest country on are welcome anytime

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  • 29. At 11:00am on 05 Jul 2009, nrojas wrote:

    In addition to what my fellow countrymen have written I have to say that I live in Europe, not because I wanted to leave Costa Rica, or because I was in the search of a better living but because of love, however, I have not been able to be fully happy in "the first world" and it's because of the people mainly, they are just cold and don't really make you feel welcome as our people would. This is the probable reason why so many Europeans are living in Costa Rica, they come and leave behind all of their comforts or better living to try to get a little of our rich coast and happy living.
    And is by traveling that you learn to appreciate what you have. To those who think that we are happy because we do not know better I have to say you are wrong, all of my friends and acquaintances do travel a lot, so, we do know.
    I welcome everyone to come and feel the PURA VIDA that we have been trying to spread around the world, because it comes from the bottom of our hearts.

    PURA VIDA!!!!

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  • 30. At 12:42pm on 05 Jul 2009, megascarything wrote:

    Population density in Costa Rica approaches a third of that in the UK. I wonder whether that could be a factor, bearing in mind other possible factors such as low light levels in northern climes.

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  • 31. At 3:16pm on 05 Jul 2009, crozb48 wrote:

    It is true to say that Costa Rica is, in ´real terms´, a first world country - of the future. Ticos have got it right with ´pura vida´ and it is lived out every day even in downtown San Jose where city life is a little more ´on the edge´.

    Pura vida is much more than a national phrase, it is a way of life an everyday greeting and it is what reminds Ticos everyday that what they have is precious.

    Materialism is not the way for measuring happiness in Costa Rica - friendship, and an almost indescribable natural beauty and diversity, and a culture which needs no military are the evidence why.

    I see in some of the above comments, some people conveniently using Latin American preconceptions of poverty, civil unrest, kidnappings, gun crime and a desire to leave and head for the US or Europe. As far as Costa Rica is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth.

    I also travelled through Colombia last year and I can honestly say any preconception I had about that country, too, was dispelled completely. My opinion before I visited was all based on what I heard or read or saw in or on the news. Anyone who has travelled in such places around the world - and is as true of the UK as anywhere else - is that you can find danger, and put yourself at risk if you ignore some common sense principles. Colombianos are friendly, welcoming and almost tico-like. The country is staggeringly beautiful and I saw much of it travelling by myself by bus from north to south.

    The day I arrived in Costa Rica, I got pura vida within hours and after 9 months of travelling and working in Central and South America I returned to Costa Rica because deep down I knew I would not find another country like it.

    It should also be noted that Costa Rica has a succesful technology and manufacturing export market. It boasts an ex-NASA astronaut with one of the most if not ´the´ most man-hours in space. It has a plasma-rocket propulsion project which will obviate the need for traditional fuels into and through space; using electricity and super-heated gas. Yet more evidence that Costa Rica is a very green player on the world stage and sustainably focused.

    But when it comes down to it, people here ´are´ happier with less of what the rest of world counts as needed to show you have done something with your life and succeeded, because you have things to show your friends. The vast majority of Tico´s are just not like that.

    Costa Rica has a true sense of humanity and the people are not afraid to show it.

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  • 32. At 3:20pm on 05 Jul 2009, crozb48 wrote:

    Re comment 25: blogward. That common is about as stupid, ignorant and as far from the reality as it is possible to get. If it comes from a citizen recently given the dubious honour by WHO/UN as ´the cocaine capital of europe´- well you might say "that says it all really" But a blanket statement like your own would be equally wrong.

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  • 33. At 4:42pm on 05 Jul 2009, Arnie New York City wrote:

    Looking over the surprising list of the 10 happiest countries, my first thought was that, with the possible exception of Brazil, Costa Rica and Vietnam, if the US would open it's borders freely to anybody who wanted to immigrate, the rest of the countries would quickly empty out.This, in spite of the fact that Americans are probably among the least happy people, especially here in New York where I live, because we are never satisfied no matter what we have!

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  • 34. At 6:03pm on 05 Jul 2009, Melaniann wrote:

    How many people are shot daily in the United States, does violence really not exist in ¨First world countries?¨ Where do the majority of drugs produced in the ¨Third world¨ end up? Isn't it true that the infant mortality rate is higher in the United States than in Costa Rica and other less ¨developed¨latin countries? According to those who complain about these statistics, life in Europe and the United States is so idylic that everyone in developing countries wants to live there, why then is it that when you travel to Costa Rica and other latin countries, you see Ex-patriots in their thousands choosing to live in them. Those who defend the sad and unnatural lives that most have in the West, should stop and think that maybe the idea of ¨security¨in life that has been sold to them is a lie. Material wealth is a distraction, no more no less!!!! Quality rather than quantity is the standard set in Costa Rica, and while there is poverty and misery in Latin countries, there is poverty and misery in the West too, we just dont hear about it so much. Having lived in Latin America for many years now, I have met some of the poorest people who have nevertheless opened their hearts and their houses to me, not something that happens in the never never land that is the west, where everybody cowers behind barbed wire fences and burglar alarms..............the less you have I have found, the more capacity you have to share.
    Pura Vida everytime

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  • 35. At 05:37am on 06 Jul 2009, tarquin wrote:

    Usual garbled statistics - this is clearly an exercise in finding the 'poorest happiest' people and is pretty pointless

    While I appreciate those studies which seek to prove the US isn't the best because it is simply the richest, to reduce pretty much every developed country to worse than columbia and the like seems like overkill - the standard of living in many first world places is far better and is overlooked by weighting it against an ecological footprint

    I ask, what's the point? - just seems like a very pointless and roundabout way to say costa rica is nice, which it is

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  • 36. At 08:14am on 06 Jul 2009, Bryn wrote:

    Wikipedia tells me that Costa Rica has a $1.92-billion-a-year tourism industry. Did the environmental footprint of the flights required to get those tourists there and back get factored into the per capita footprint of CR or of the countries from which they came?

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  • 37. At 10:12am on 06 Jul 2009, angloscotty wrote:

    Early in your article you make the following statement:
    What nef, Sustainable Development Commission, UK government, European Commission and even the OECD all appear to agree on is that we need a better evaluation of progress than simple GDP.
    I have to disagree with you that there is any evidence that the UK government has any belief in the work of the Sustainable Development Commission. Their hopes of getting out of the mess we are now in rely entirely on the need to get back to a growth agenda and sadly the opposition says the same thing.Indeed according to GB and AD our future relies on global GDP doubling in the next 20 years, which inplies a steady growth in the economy of 3.5% per year.
    Can anyone please tell me how on earth this can be possible starting from where we are now, up to our necks in national debt,with little prospect of even getting our balance of payments leveling out at zero?
    I think this recent think tank report has muddied the waters by introducing too many quality of life factors for most people to handle. The simple truth from the Prosperity Without Growth report is that the human race is using up resources provided by mother nature over billions of years at a rate which is completely unsustainable, and the larder is rapidly becoming empty. Someone recently described the situation perfectly by saying that we are all sucking on the rear teat of a dead cow.
    The mantra of the so called developed countries of the western world is that we need to continue growing year on year for ever, frequently throwing in the word sustainable to convince ourselves that this is possible. Anybody with a brain can see that continuous growth in a finite earth with finite land mass is impossible, so the question for us all should be how can we learn to live on Earth in a steady state equilibrium with mother nature.The Sustainable Development Commission has tried to address this problem, but even they did not include the need to achieve a steady state global population, which would be essential.
    The longer we drift into the disasters ahead caused by excessive use of resources in the dash for growth, the worse the treatment and cure will be, if it is not too late already.The victims of our profligate ways in the last century are not those yet to be born in future centuries. They are our children and grandchildren who are alive today.
    It is uncertain whether our political leaders are just unable to see beyond the next election and don't want to upset the voters or if they genuinely cannot see the that exponential growth in every aspect of our lives is neither desirable or possible.
    Sadly, we are all locked into a catch 22 situation, perhaps with the exception of Costa Rica.

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  • 38. At 1:58pm on 06 Jul 2009, INFELIZENSJO wrote:

    Happiness? Entirely overrated. Who answered these polls? The Costa Rican Institute of Tourism?

    Costa Rica has terrible violent crime, a public infrastructure that is quickly collapsing, the gap between rich and poor is growing quickly, and terrible living conditions for the majority of the population. We are the happiest people on the planet? What does that really mean?

    A sign of a healthy, open developed society is its self-criticism and a constant striving to be better. According to this study we need more malcontents in Costa Rica.

    Its seems to me that this article and comments give us a peek at the British psyche more than an accurate portrayal of Costa Rican society. Maybe some of you folks could use a vacation and spend some time with friends and family. Just do it.

    We, on the other hand, need to get to work.

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  • 39. At 4:47pm on 06 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    INFELIZENSJO: Happiness? Entirely overrated

    I think youll probably find that people are strongly motivated by finding happiness (and spend most of their life trying to find it). For example, if you didnt get some sort of kick from commenting on this report then you probably wouldnt bother (people tend to stay well clear of things they have a real aversion to). It all depends on your source of happiness. Most people go for the fancy car or fancy mortgage even though it may be well beyond their means (and often become upset if it bankrupts them). Others get their kicks from work or flying off to holidays in the sun. Yet others cant get enough of McDonald's, fill their tiny living room with a big 50inch TV, go for a night on the beer or inject heroin. A case of what ever floats your boat really!

    The only snag is that we are never be satisfied with these things. So we go and find the next big thing which we think will do the trick. In the mean time we consume more and more things in an attempt to make us happy. As arnie53 says

    arnie53:Americans are probably among the least happy people, especially here in New York where I live, because we are never satisfied no matter what we have!

    peterbolt.: I have a son 40 years who has never owned a car - He is no happier than my other son (38) who does.

    I dont know if this implies that your 38 year old son is no happier than your 40 year old son? If he isnt then there is something wrong because, if you were to believe the advertising hype about owning a car, he should be grinning from ear to ear. I would guess that, if the car is not new, he gets his jollies some other way.

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  • 40. At 4:53pm on 06 Jul 2009, whyzehubbub wrote:

    What complete Tosh.

    How is the EF weighted into the final statistics ?
    How can you apply generalities between happiness and consumerism ?

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  • 41. At 5:27pm on 06 Jul 2009, sleepingpurelife wrote:

    if your never como then you never know what it feels to live here in costa rica let`s celebrate my folks cause my country is the happiest place in the world

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  • 42. At 5:35pm on 06 Jul 2009, carolco78 wrote:

    I read this note about that CR is the most happy country in the World and it felt good to see that it had an impact on the readers. The only thing that maybe intrigues me is why are there so many negative comments about it, if you take a deep thought, every country in the world has beautiful and ugly things, every country has criminals, every country has drug, aids and such problems, there is never gonna a perfect place on Earth, but maybe what we Costa Ricans have is that inspite of some negative things that may have (as any other country in the Globe has as well) we focus more on what makes us happy, which are our natural beauties, family values, music, food, our people who always put a smile on their faces and pursuit to help any foreign visitor, I mean, I live now in Germany, and I love it in here, but our little beautiful country tough me to appreciate what I have and not what I don't have, if all the 1st World Countries could just love what they have without feeling envy for what others have, I guess you could be so happy as we are, maybe you need to book a flight and visit us, then you will also feel the hapiness that surround us!
    PURA VIDA!!!

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  • 43. At 9:14pm on 06 Jul 2009, Andres Mora wrote:

    Well, as a Costa Rican I cannot be any prouder about this article. As any other country, there are things far from perfect, but nevertheless we've got lots of opportunities to make our lives better, and more importantly, we've had political stability and peace worth of a developed country.

    And about migration subject, as much as I'd love to live in the UK for a while (mostly because of the cultural heritage and traditions), there are lots of British & Americans living here and in love with CR.

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  • 44. At 2:05pm on 07 Jul 2009, kimoni9 wrote:

    This is a very interesting blog seen as I came back from Costa Rica three months ago! I spent two months out there (based in the barrios of San Jose near vargas araya) and did travelling in the week to various tourist places. I think its extremely narrow to pidgeon-hole one country as the happiest place in the is all to do with personal opinion and sentiment at the end of the day, one persons paradise will be another persons nuisance.

    I have conflicting opinions about Costa rica. Yes beautiful natural wonder and the 'pura vida' lifestyle is fantastic, although if it is 'so' good then why is eveything there getting increasingly more Americanised? and all there is a heavy emphasis in most of the colleges to go to the USA? And dont even get me started on the crime there, most of the students I met there on exchange hated Costa Rica and couldnt wait to get out because they had either been robbed or threatened with a knife or gun....yes this happens in every country...but I havent seen it to this extent. The Ticos there told me that they are just so used to the crime and i was constantly warned by my host family everyday to take care. Maybe ex-pats with lots of cash to get somewhere safe to live love it, but for a girl in her early twenties (who speaks spanish) I found it extremely hard and maybe after being robbed I am a little biased, but my friend and I didnt feel safe there at all. I met Ticos who had issues with the community, who wanted to get away and go to europe or USA, and a lot of Ticos I met loved their country. Its a mixed bag, it looks like paradise (well apart from Coca cola bus terminal!) but there is no way it is an 'idyllic' paradise without its flaws.

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  • 45. At 4:12pm on 07 Jul 2009, NEARPOSTHEADER wrote:

    I live in Mexico and am constanly surprised by the amount of people who, although maybe having lived in the USA for a certain amount of time, claim to not like the lifestyle and prefer living in 'poor, backward' Mexico. They feel that the pace of life is too fast and the people are too superficial. Obviously, many make the trek north (legally or illegally) but this is more for economic reasons than anything else, and after having made enough money to establish themselves, return to their native land.
    Interesting to read kimoni9's comments as I had the impression that Costa Rica was a relatively safe and peaceful place. In the 6 years I've been living in Guadalajara, I've never been robbed, mugged or been in any kind of threatening situation. Guadalajara, however, is not Mexico City, where the incidence of crime is much higher.
    I have to say that something as basic as the weather can affect the happiness rating in a country - sunny days count for a lot.

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  • 46. At 02:04am on 08 Jul 2009, U14062365 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 47. At 02:17am on 08 Jul 2009, U14062365 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 48. At 05:32am on 08 Jul 2009, Magapuravida wrote:

    Hi there, I m Maga and my lovely friend from UK sent me this link, I must say that happiness is in everyone s heart, you dont need to live here or there, I think life is such one and you have to enjoy it.

    I can say that here in Costa Rica, there are poor people, robberies, crimes, murders, but where there isnt?

    You are very welcome here, and I must say that I think your country is beautiful as many countries around Europe, every place has its magic.

    All you have to do is enjoy at the place where you were born.

    Do you know what is the secret?


    Pura vida!! Regards from a Tica!

    P.S.: John I m waiting for you, know you can say " I m going to the happiest place of the world" haha! see you!

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  • 49. At 10:19am on 08 Jul 2009, CarolineOfBrunswick wrote:

    "The Index doesnt reveal the happiest country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planets natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index arent the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planets resources is possible."

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  • 50. At 12:42pm on 08 Jul 2009, kimoni9 wrote:

    46 I know there is no such place as terms of a physical place, it was just a statement in order to add to discussion.

    Overall I am glad I went to Costa Rica and would return again one day, I would encourage anyone to go to and visit a Latin American country!

    P.S they make the most amazing jaw-droppingly good frescos (smoothy style drinks) there, no wonder its ranked as a happy place!

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  • 51. At 12:43pm on 08 Jul 2009, -Boyan- wrote:

    I know it has been mentioned before but it's worth stating again:

    The weighting of this analysis is crude and it doesn't take a toxic debt analyst to see that the final, footprint column, has the single largest vote in the ranking.

    A lot of things can be illustrated using maps, charts and ranks but it doesn't make them credible.

    Forget about the UK which has, admittedly, been prone to a bit of gloom recently - if you want proof this is rubbish, take a look at how low France & Italy are.

    Ever seen a sad Italian?

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  • 52. At 3:38pm on 08 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    I rejoice that a lot of people are realising that happiness is a state of mind, and is only in part dependent on external factors.

    However, the point of the report, as CarolineOfBrunswick as defined above, is to show that a long and happy life doesn't have to literally cost the earth, and not to find the happiest country.

    Boyan: - Ever seen a sad Italian?- yes at work in the UK when under pressure, just like the rest of us! But actually as nations the UK, France & Italy fair well with life expectancy and satisfaction, and are not to far behind Costa Rica. But (using the figures provided, which may be far from perfect) we have a much larger footprint. This flies in the face of the idea that we need to consume a lot in order to have long prosperous lives.

    This is not to say that can say that the happiest countries in the world consume less. Again not the purpose of the study. The study falls foul of 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' and so can't do this. A better test to see if the happiest countries in the world consume less is to get individuals in those countries to fill out a questionnaire which presents a list of things and ask if they perceive the things on the list to be source of happiness. Such things as filling your house with electronic gadgets, or having your food shipped from half way around the world, or every person in your household owning a car etc. etc. could be added, as well as asking other indicators of life satisfaction.

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  • 53. At 5:19pm on 08 Jul 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    What happened to Cool Britannia ?? Happiness can be delusional.

    1:Life expectancy makes me the, quality of life ?
    2:Life satisfaction makes me the,aspirations ?
    3:Ecological footprint makes me,a natural, in-built penalty on developed nations ?

    Populations from low carbon footprint countries migrate to high density,high carbon footprint countries,because they want to be less happy ??.i.e. Do you migrate because you are happy where you are ??

    N.B.Individual Areas in Britain(and Costa Rica) may vary.

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  • 54. At 6:54pm on 08 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    SSnotbanned: Happiness can be delusional.

    True happiness can never be delusional because it comes from a clear and peaceful mind.
    A lot of people migrate because they believe it will alleviate their sufferings. I guess that it can do this in many cases. But whether they are happier doing this depends on their mental disposition. They may also aspire to 'greater things'. But if these things (material or otherwise) are later taken from them they may become unhappy. If these people were truly 'happy' then it wouldn't matter if you have or don't have these things.
    I would guess that true happiness is not dependent on which country (or area) you come from, and certainly doesn't depend on how many possessions you own. To say otherwise is a misunderstanding of what true happiness is.

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  • 55. At 07:08am on 09 Jul 2009, anchalls wrote:

    I find maps and statistics of this kind fascinating but just wish that the people who compile them would cater for the 20% or so of men who are "colour-blind" (red-green deficient). I see no difference in the colour key between the top and bottom blocks. There are whole websites urging web designers to take account of this well-known but often ignored phenomenon. If, in your company, you find a male standing beside the photocopier in the morning for 15 minutes, it's possibly because he's colour blind and hasn't noticed that the tiny little LED has changed from red to green. Mind you, it's a nice way to meet other people.

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  • 56. At 3:11pm on 09 Jul 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    #54 aka PhiliP Keep guessing !!

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  • 57. At 3:34pm on 09 Jul 2009, Chris_X wrote:

    It seems like being miserable and moaning about it is a national pasttime in the UK. I do find these analyses interesting; one other prominent example is the global quality of living index @ .. note only one British city in the top 50!

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  • 58. At 4:32pm on 09 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    aka PhiliP Keep guessing !!
    Thanks I'll keep guessing. Until you give me the hard data then you can keep guessing also!

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  • 59. At 5:45pm on 09 Jul 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    #58 akaPhilP Re SSnotbanned:''Happiness can be delusional''
    there is an abundance of ''studies that show happy people are more likely to walk around in a state of delusion''.
    the fact that you are admitting you are guessing about ''true happiness'' gives me the hard data of a delusional state.

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  • 60. At 6:13pm on 09 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    SSnotbanned :

    there is an abundance of ''studies that show happy people are more likely to walk around in a state of delusion''

    Thanks if you can send me a link to these studies I will gladly read them!

    the fact that you are admitting you are guessing about ''true happiness'' gives me the hard data of a delusional state.

    I only use guess because I do not wish to appear presumptuous or rude. I define "True happiness" as that which comes from a clear and peaceful mind. So by that definition "True happiness" can never be delusional (because it is a definition). If you don't like that definition then thats up to you. I am happy with it!

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  • 61. At 09:15am on 10 Jul 2009, RJTysoe wrote:

    I can well believe that the Costa Ricans are the happiest people. I spent a couple of weeks there and found the people friendly, laid back and well educated. They disbanded their military many years ago and invested in healthcare and education and have one of highest rates of literacy in the world. The government works actively to protect the environment in a country with the most diverse habitats in the world. They have a great climate and a beautiful country. I'd love to emigrate there.

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  • 62. At 9:52pm on 10 Jul 2009, lfpuravida wrote:

    With 20 years of working almost exclusively in Costa Rica and almost five years living in Costa Rica, the only blog I saw that made sense is from INFELIZENSJO . 1st. The study done is inconclusive and must be heavily skewed as to the sampling. 2nd. Because of nationalistic pride it is almost cultural for a Costa Rican to say he or she is happy, especially when comparing itself to any other country and a survey provided by anyone other than their own government.

    For those who say Costa Rica has one of the best "Free" health care systems in the world, I say, it is not free and if one of the best, then God save us all! Is it inexpensive, well you get what you pay for. How about getting on a waitlist for a year and a half to have your gall bladder removed while in excruciating pain due to the accumulated stones. Or, how about an entire zone of the country who's nearest gynacologist is 5 hours away and more than likely can't see you for a month and a half if then due to his case load. Or the guy whos shoulder was separated; yet, the doctor without putting any kind of cast told him he would be fine, then two months later told him he would never have the use of his arm again! Anyone who says Costa Rica has a great and free healthcare system is reading to many brouchures, does not live here or is paying for one of the private hospitals available here.

    I have no idea where Costa Rica gets its stats on literacy or where the sampling is taken; but, I can assure you illiteracy in Costa Rica is appalling and just outside of San Jose drop out after the sixth grade is as high as 7 of every 10 in some places. High school drop outs may be worse. Look up current reports on education within Costa Rica, so please don't kid yourselves.

    Conservation of it's natural resources: you can have all the laws you want; but, if not enforced are of little to no value. Costa Rica spends so much on upper management in ministries there is no funding available for the intention for which they were founded and thus grassroots enforcement is laughable. Costa Rica is beautiful; but, she is losing her natural beauty at an alarming rate. For instance; The Osa National Park one of the largest and certainly one of the most diverse systems in the world has I believe three park rangers which has to cover rough terrain encompassing tremendous number of hectares where the Baird's taper is on the endangered list and the primary foodsource for the jaguar also on the list. Leatherback turtles, don't even go there! Shark finning is still allowed in Costa Rica. The U.S. is banning the importation of shrimp from Costa Rica because it does not use "TEDS", turtle extraction devices in it's nets. Even if caught pochers are given a slap on the list and because they might be poor, Costa Rica's system favors the people over the animals and therefore sets them free as fast as they caught.

    Crime: ask any happy Costa Rican how good they feel about leaving their house unattended while they go to visit family and they'll tell you, they can't. Costa Ricans by and large and imprisioned in their own houses with bars over all windows or walls around their houses with the likelyhood they will be broken into sooner or later. At one time, if someone was present it was rare to be broken into. Now, the laws are so lax breaking and entering with the intention of doing bodily harm is as commonplace as would be if no one was home.

    Enough said, but, if all are as happy as you say they are, then either someone didn't study up closely enough or we are all in pretty big trouble.

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  • 63. At 10:13pm on 10 Jul 2009, lfpuravida wrote:

    Seanpf, as a postnote, for the 18 years I dealt with Costa Rica it was in the tourism industry sector and to consider it's tourism industry first class is to not compare it with other country's tourism industries that make Costa Rica's seem infant if not childish. I am sorry but rather than appease Costa Rica with such accolaides, one should wake her up to get with at level with the rest of the world in tourism, or is progress / developement going to cause them to be unhappy ? Anyone who has dealt with ICT (Instituto costariccense de turismo) and much of the entities that make up the tourism sector knows Costa Rica is losing ground to the rest of the world now whereas once she was the goose that laid the golden egg. If you could only understand what happens and what recourse a tourist has getting robbed at gunpoint or has their passport stolen, you might not feel Costa Rica has such a first class tourism industry. As well, see the U.S,. State dept. warnings against travel in Costa Rica.

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  • 64. At 10:05pm on 11 Jul 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    Costa Rica is the place to be!


    Let's just check the U.N.O. statistics shall we to see how many from UK and Europe are flooding into Costa Rica and how many are making the opposite journey?

    Whoops.... there goes a really nice set of colour Maps, really fine data-tables and all mannner of projections.


    Costa Ricans leaving for work elsewhere in the World: several thousand (official figures 11,500 or so).
    Emigration to Costa Rica: several dozen (official figures show less than 300).

    Now, can we please get back to the real stuff and not fantasy island/love boat rolled into one!

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  • 65. At 05:56am on 13 Jul 2009, lydiatiptop wrote:

    So that's what 'Pura Vida' means! I am grateful to you Mark for the enlightenment. Those words are emblazoned on a coffee mug which I use every day, (inherited from an unknown colleague) along with Costa Rica on its handle.Cool!

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  • 66. At 10:47am on 13 Jul 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    #60 akaPhilP: Aye,
    I thought your definition would lead to a circular arguement. Therefore, not acceptable.
    Good luck finding the studies, there is plenty to find off the web.

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  • 67. At 2:09pm on 13 Jul 2009, akaPhillP wrote:

    #66 SSnotbanned
    the only study I have found is of a group of undergraduates who were given varying degrees of control over turning on a green light. Some members of the group had perfect control; others had nonethe light went on and off of its own accord. The depressives accurately predicted, in each instance, whether they were in control of the situation or not. The nondepressives, on the other hand, thought they had control about 35 percent of the time over the situation in which they were, in fact, 100 percent helpless.
    These 'happy' people were not objectively assessing the situation and so did not have clear minds. My definition requires a peaceful and clear mind.

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