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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, Central and South America dominate 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: Christopher Boyce

I’d been writing about wellbeing for years. In fact, I’d published loads on the subject; an ‘expert’ you might say. Yet, the really curious thing was that when I thought about my own life, how I spent my time (mostly working), whether I had neighbours I could rely upon (eerily quiet stairwells), my health (OK, but I needed much more fresh air), I didn’t feel very content with how things had turned out. Sure, I did well at “the job”, achieved a lot and got paid more than enough. But those things don’t really matter all that much – much as my own research into understanding the links between money and happiness kept telling me.

When it came to wellbeing, I knew a lot and I could talk a good talk, but behind all of that, I wasn’t living the way I needed to feel fulfilled. In a society that cares more for profit than people, that is a difficult thing for any of us to do. 

My decision to quit my comfortable but not very happy life, and head out into the world on my bicycle, wasn’t an easy one. Sadly, making choices that fulfil us on a deeper level is rarely made easy. I was hoping that my bicycle would take me to places where they were finding other ways to live, that didn’t involve growing the economy ever larger. This was a journey that from top to tail, was centred around wellbeing – how I travelled, where I went, and who I encountered. Eventually, I was hoping that the end point of my journey would be when my bicycle and I would reach Bhutan, the country famous for its use of happiness to guide its national policy.

In the end, I cycled a good way up most of the Americas (from Argentina to Canada), before journeying to Bhutan via South East Asia – 25 countries and 20,000 km of pedalling. 

A huge chunk of my journey was spent in Latin America. Nearly 10 months – far longer than I had anticipated, yet the places I passed through there, were so inspiring and inviting.

Day 23: In Uruguay – fresh but nervous about the long road ahead.

In terms of how much people laugh and smile throughout the day, it is in Latin American countries where this is the highest in the world. The wellbeing they have is relational – that is, their wellbeing is grounded in relationships and the community – rather than in continuous, and often endless, achievement. Their wealth resides in their connections with one another and on countless occasions I was extended the most touching hospitality. It is an innate human need to give, and Latin Americans certainly haven’t lost the art of doing that. In the materialistic profit-orientated mainstream economy, there is such an extreme focus on getting and taking, often at the expense of others, that our wellbeing inevitably suffers.

Day 80: Up in the Andes. It was a simple, humble life that often had me touching the divine and feeling deeply fulfilled.
Day 134: Ecuador. Passing the Southern hemisphere into the Northern hemisphere.

The country that stands out the most in Latin America from a wellbeing perspective, is Costa Rica. Having heard so much about Costa Rica over the years, it was a joy to be there on my bicycle. It is uncanny that Costa Rica outperforms the United States on life expectancy (81.0 versus 79.1 years), democracy (a full democracy versus a flawed democracy), and population life evaluation (7.1 out of 10 versus 6.9). This is all despite having an average income more than three times smaller than in the United States. 

Day 247: A happy little village in Guatemala. Happiness the relational way.

During my time there, I met with Costa Rican government officials. They told me that their way of life has come about because Costa Rica made crucial policy decisions – high investment in health and education in the 50s/60s, as well as environmental protections in the 80s. What I loved about Costa Rica is that there is a national pride in living a simple, yet happy, relational lifestyle – they refer to it as the “pura vida”. I remember with fondness camping for days on end, watching the waves crash on beaches, and getting a taste of that “pura vida” for myself – no rushing, just being.

Another stand out country on my journey was Canada. Their national index of wellbeing is pushing the frontiers of going beyond measures of GDP – as the director of the index explained to me, when I met up with him. Not only was their index developed with citizen consultation, but it also has direct links to policy and is useful at the local and regional level. 

I was surprised I got as far as Canada. It wasn’t an easy journey and had been deeply challenging in places – from a dog bite in South America early in the journey, to crushing loneliness in North America – and in all honesty, by the time I reached Canada, I was ready to give up on Bhutan and come home.

As much as the journey was centred around arriving in that curious country, I’d long figured out that my own happiness wasn’t dependent upon me arriving there.

My personal process on this journey led to me letting go of achievement and being more present and compassionate in my approach to life, much like how the most inspiring people I met on my journey lived. They tended to be the happiest people I met too.

It was in Canada that lots of people I didn’t know started becoming interested in this journey of mine. It seemed that because I’d gotten this far, others thought I could genuinely make it to Bhutan. I got a new lease of life and I journeyed on through to Asia. It was in India where I was my happiest by far.

Day 500: Many curious and friendly souls in India.

Not only was I, after 18 months of cycling, excitably close to Bhutan, but I was well looked after by the countless people I met there. And I still can’t forget the happiness I felt two weeks earlier, when I was in neighbouring Sikkim, looking at mountains that might well have been Bhutanese mountains.

Day 508: Bhutanese Mountains. Finally arrived and feeling happy.

In Bhutan, it is dekyid that policymakers are trying to preserve and protect. Dekyid translates to happiness in English, but it means much more than that. It actually is more akin to peace and tranquillity. And in Bhutan, they aren’t ready to sacrifice it for the sake of a bigger economy. Though it has to be said that as a subsistence economy, there would perhaps be some benefits to economic growth there.

Yet, Bhutan is growing its economy in a way that is aligned with their own unique values. Such development takes time, but it is necessary. 

Day 511: Finally at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan on International Day of Happiness, 20th March 2019.

There is a lot to learn from countries like Costa Rica, Canada, and Bhutan. They’re not perfect, no country is. But, the stand out features are that they are cultivating ways of life that haven’t been prescribed by the globalisation agenda. By the time I arrived in Bhutan, I had so much I wanted to incorporate into my life when I returned home. I couldn’t wait to get more involved in wellbeing conversations. In fact, when I set out for Bhutan, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance didn’t exist. But I’d watched as it gathered steam whilst I was away, and I couldn’t wait to come back and be a part of it.

Even though I quit a respectable job to take what was quite an absurd journey, people seem to value what I have to say a little more than before. It is one thing to research wellbeing, but quite another to live and breathe it. 

Christopher Boyce is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Stirling Management School, University of Stirling and a member of the World Wellbeing Panel. His research has explored how the economy contributes to individual and national happiness and wellbeing. Three years ago, he left academia to go on his cycling pilgrimage to Bhutan and is currently writing a book based on that journey, tentatively titled, ‘A Journey for Happiness’.

You can listen to Christopher speaking about his journey on BBC’s Fixing the World podcast: A Happier Planet.

Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @drhappyboyce; his website and sign up for book updates here.

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand 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.