WEAll revealed the latest rankings of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) today, which compare countries by how efficiently they are creating long, happy lives using our limited environmental resources.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is the leading global measure of ‘sustainable wellbeing’. It measures ‘efficiency’, using three indicators:

This is the fifth edition of the Happy Planet index. It was first launched in 2006, with subsequent editions published in 2009, 2012, and 2016.

The 2021 Happy Planet Index: Which countries are most ‘efficient’?

The top 10 countries by Happy Planet Index score are as follows:

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Vanuatu 
  3. Colombia 
  4. Switzerland 
  5. Ecuador 
  6. Panama 
  7. Jamaica 
  8. Guatemala 
  9. Honduras
  10. Uruguay 

Notably, South America dominates the Happy Planet Index, with 8 of the top 10 highest ranking countries from the region. However, there has been a decline in wellbeing in several countries in South America, including Brazil.

Selected other countries:

11.   New Zealand

14.   United Kingdom

29.   Germany

31.   France

35.   Ireland

41.   Sweden

88.   Australia

94.   China

105. Canada

122. USA

The full Happy Planet Index rankings are available to view at www.happyplanetindex.org

How does your country measure up?

This year, the Happy Planet Index features an interactive website, where viewers can explore the data, make comparisons between countries and regions, and view trends over time, from 2006 to 2020. You can also download the data to make your own analyses!

There is also a new ‘Personal Happy Planet Index’ test to help users see what country they are most like based on their own lifestyles – and to reflect on how they can create their own “good life that doesn’t cost the Earth.

How is the Happy Planet Index different?

Unlike other indices, such as the Quality of Life Index or World Happiness Report, the Happy Planet Index does not rank countries in terms of quality of life or happiness. Instead, it looks at which countries are best at using minimal ‘inputs’ of natural resources to create the maximum possible  ‘outputs’ of long, happy lives – thus delivering truly “sustainable wellbeing”. 

Rankings serve as a compass pointing in the overall direction in which societies should be travelling – towards higher wellbeing lifestyles with lower ecological footprints. 

The Happy Planet Index does not consider societies truly successful if they deliver “good lives” which use more resources than the earth can support OR if they consume within the Earth’s limits, but have very low levels of wellbeing or life expectancy. 

Promoting human happiness doesn’t have to be at odds with creating a sustainable future.

The Happy Planet Index turns the old world order on its head by highlighting how high-income Western nations are often inefficient at creating wellbeing for their people. 

Costa Rica has again been ranked in first place for a fourth time due to its commitment to health, education, and environmental protection. In contrast, the USA was placed as the lowest scoring G7 nation at 122nd place, ranking low on both wellbeing and ecological footprint.

Costa Rica has been ranked in first place for a fourth time due to its commitment to health, education, and environmental protection. According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica has a more efficient economy than the USA.

  • Costa Rica outperforms the USA (#122) on each of life expectancy, wellbeing, and environmental sustainability.
  • Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is less than half that of the USA. Despite this, Costa Ricans have higher wellbeing, and on average live longer. 
  • Costa Rica’s per capita Ecological Footprint is just one third of the size of the USA’s.

Countries that rank highly on the Happy Planet Index show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with a much smaller ecological footprint than found in the highest-consuming nations. 

Many nations achieve green lights in each of the individual components of the Happy Planet Index – meaning that these targets are genuinely attainable. 

Stories from a ‘Happy Planet’?

Overall, the Happy Planet Index shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable wellbeing: only a third of nations (representing 38% of the global population) consume within environmental limits and no country scores successfully across the three goals of high life expectancy for all, high experienced wellbeing for all, and living within environmental limits. 

Still, the Happy Planet Index rankings highlight many success stories that demonstrate the possibility of living good lives without costing the Earth – and we’re making progress towards this goal.

Environmental progress made in Western Europe – but more must be done.

  • Switzerland jumps to 4th place out of 152 countries on the Happy Planet Index, becoming the top ranking European country on the Index – and the only one in the top 10.
  • The UK rises to 14th place; now the highest scoring G7 country. 
  • Other Western European countries rank fairly well on the index: the Netherlands (#18), Germany (#29), Spain (#30), France (#31).

Mixed results among high-income countries.

  • North America falls in the bottom third of rankings of 152 countries: USA (#122) is the lowest ranking G7 country; Canada (#105) and Australia (#88) are not much further ahead.
  • In contrast, New Zealand is now in 11th  place,  becoming the second highest Western country in the rankings. 
  • South Asia and the Middle East dropped in the rankings; India dropped to 128th place out of 152 countries due to significant decline in wellbeing since 2006, but also a rising ecological footprint.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s scores are rising due to rapid increases in life expectancy.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Data from 2020 shows that despite the largest pandemic in living memory and a complete re-organisation of the world economy, people’s wellbeing had, at least in 2020, on average, remained surprisingly stable.

This demonstrates that our wellbeing is not inevitably linked to the fast-paced economic system that we have become used to – and suggests that it is possible to sustain good lives with a lower impact on the Earth.

To effectively address the climate crisis, positive changes we see on the Happy Planet Index need to be much more rapid. To do that, we need to rethink how our global economic system is designed. All signs point to a Wellbeing Economy.

Share the Happy Planet Index

Use our promotion pack to start the conversation: “How can we live good lives that don’t cost the Earth?”

For further information or to speak to the founder of the Happy Planet Index, Nic Marks, please contact: Rabia Abrar at happyplanet@weall.org 

By Calum Rosie

Calum Rosie is a writer based in Edinburgh, and is a correspondent for Immigration Advice Service. He writes about his personal views on social housing as it relates to a Wellbeing Economy, for WEAll’s ‘Wellbeing Economy Correspondents’ guest blog series.

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the first-hand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

All views or opinions expressed in the ‘Wellbeing Economy Correspondents’ blog series are personal views of the guest author and do not reflect the views of the WEAll global Amp team.

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Access to safe, high-quality housing is incredibly important for the wellbeing of any human being, and yet, there are thousands upon thousands of people sleeping rough every single night all across the world. 

In England alone, over 200,000 people are classified as homeless, with that number rising over the past year thanks to economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Wellbeing Economy, housing would be an absolute priority and the housing system would work for the betterment of all by guaranteeing a safe, secure home for every person, and by establishing the importance of the tenant’s wellbeing over that of the landlord’s profits. This would be in contrast to the UK’s current housing system and government policies, which have allowed our society’s most vulnerable to be thrown out of their homes at the whim of a landlord.

Housing the ‘Unhoused

Several charities and other social enterprises across the UK are stepping in to address this issue and provide housing to our society’s most vulnerable. Edinburgh-based charity Social Bite has partnered with social care charity, Cyrenians, to combat the city’s housing crisis by building the Social Bite Village, an incredibly ambitious project designed to provide a safe and supportive place for Edinburgh’s ‘unhoused’ to live and recover.

Social Bite, along with many other charities tackling the housing issue, prefer the term ‘unhoused’, because ‘homeless’ implies no causation, whereas ‘unhoused’ implies the individual is without a home due to the failure of those meant to provide them. 

Social Bite’s founders began by employing unhoused people in their café, and then offered the option for customers to pay forward food and drink to be given to those who would otherwise struggle to pay. These efforts have escalated into a nationwide initiative to tackle homelessness in the most direct way: by providing high-quality homes with additional mental health support. 

Celebrities like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio have supported the charity in the past, due to its universal appeal and strongly moral yet simple message:

everyone can and should be given a second chance in life. 

While still in the planning stages, the idea for a “Social Village” proved incredibly popular and has garnered huge international support

The first Big Sleep Out event to raise money for the project saw the likes of Liam Gallagher and John Cleese perform in front of thousands of people camping out in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. 

What is the Social Bite Village?

The ‘Social Bite Village’ can accommodate up to 20 people, all living together in a community. It is designed to get previously unhoused residents used to living with other people and encourages them to work cooperatively, with residents socialising, cooking, and gardening together in a shared space. The aim is to tackle the isolation that often comes with being unhoused – sometimes just throwing someone in a home isn’t quite enough to help them improve their lives.

To that end, mental health support workers supplied by Cyrenians are onsite 24 hours a day to help teach residents important life skills for use in the future, and to provide general mental health support if it is needed. 

This is an incredibly important aspect of the village: 85% of unhoused people report having mental health problems.

So, it’s fantastic to see that Social Bite is dedicated to supporting the residents holistically and ensuring that their mental and physical wellbeing is looked after.

This sets the Social Bite Village apart from other social housing projects in the country, many of which are little more than money-making schemes which disregard the needs and the safety of their tenants. To understand their priorities, see the Trustpilot reviews of Clarion Housing Association, one of the UK’s largest and most profitable housing associations…

and compare them with the CEO’s salary.

Success to date

Social Bite’s success is hard to argue with: they claim that over 400 people are now housed thanks to their stay in the Social Bite Village.

Other charities are now following their example and constructing their own social homes. The next step is to convince governments the world over that housing every single person, regardless of wealth or circumstances, whether they are already a citizen, or are seeking indefinite leave to remain, deserves to be housed safely.

In a Wellbeing Economy, this type of housing system would be commonplace, and would be a part of a holistic care system that ensures that everyone in the country is supported, happy, and healthy. 

Social Bite proves that this is not only possible but very realistic, if only we can reframe our priorities and our assumptions of what can be done to help our most vulnerable citizens.