The 2016 Happy Planet Index (HPI) results are in. For the fourth time, we’ve ranked countries all over the world based on how efficiently their residents are able to live long, happy lives right now, and in the future.

Still, no country has been able to achieve the ultimate goal of long lives and high wellbeing for all within sustainable ecological limits. In fact, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that wealth equates to delivering a successful economy, and offer valuable insights into the policies that might deliver long, happy lives within environmental limits.

What is the Happy Planet Index?

The HPI is the leading measure of sustainable wellbeing. It combines four elements – wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint – to show how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.

How’s it looking in the UK?

The UK places a disappointing 34th out of 140 countries. But it’s not the only wealthy nation that fails to place near the top of the rankings – no G8 economy appears in the top 30.

The UK performs relatively strongly on wellbeing and life expectancy on average and in terms of how equally the scores are distributed across the population. But like most other advanced economies, it is denied a place in the HPI‘s top 20, due to its high and unsustainable ecological footprint – a whopping 4.9 global hectares per capita. However, the UK still comes out ahead of France (44th) and Germany (49th), but behind Norway (12th) and Spain (15th).

The most efficient economy in the world is….

Costa Rica has topped the 2016 Happy Planet Index rankings for the third time. The tiny tropical nation is far ahead of the UK and beats many Western economies on sustainable wellbeing.

The overall results highlight success stories in Latin America and Asia Pacific, where residents enjoy relatively high and equally distributed life expectancy and wellbeing, while leaving a smaller ecological footprint than other more advanced economies.

What does success look like?

In Costa Rica, people are living longer, and are more satisfied with life than people living in the USA – although there is slightly higher inequality in how these outcomes are distributed within the population of Costa Rica. What really sets the country apart is that it manages to combine long, happy lives with an environmental impact that’s little more than one third of the size of the USA’s.

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So what’s the secret to Costa Rica’s success?

Since abolishing its army in 1949, Costa Rica has reallocated its defence budget to funding education, health and pensions.  The culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods is another factor that’s contributing to Costa Rican’s high wellbeing.

Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. 99% of electricity used there comes from renewable sources and the government is far ahead of many wealthier nations, having committed the country to becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

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Image credit: bethcanphoto via Flickr

While Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, it still has some way to go before its Ecological Footprint of 2.8 global hectares per capita reaches the sustainable level of 1.7 global hectares per capita.

Like every nation, Costa Rica has more work to do to reach the ultimate goal of truly sustainable wellbeing. But its success, scoring top place on the HPI, demonstrates that there are alternatives to the development paths that have been followed in the West. It provides a shining example of a country that is well on its way to creating good lives that don’t cost the Earth.

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