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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 

We asked Stephanie Mander, Senior Project Officer at Nourish Scotland and Co-ordinator of Scottish Food Coalition, to speak to WEAll about food insecurity and how it relates to Scotland’s wellbeing – both before and during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say:


We’re fortunate to live in Scotland, a country where the leadership not only recognises the shortcomings of GDP as the measure of a country’s economic progress, but also actively seeks to position national success as directly tied to the wellbeing of the population.

Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Scotland is redefining what it means to be a successful nation by focusing on the broader wellbeing of the population as well as the GDP of the country. The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing… Putting wellbeing at the heart of our approach means we can focus on a wider set of measures which reflect on things like the health and happiness of citizens.”

This is an inspiring vision, and in line with the goals of the Scottish Food Coalition[1] – who would love nothing more than to see the health and happiness of Scotland’s citizens be the impetus behind the governance of our food system. Access to a healthy, sustainable diet is a human right, and that right is not being realised by too many in Scotland. We’ve been pushing for a proper look at the food system, and a bit of oomph behind the political will to address the many challenges it is facing – i.e. diet-related illnesses, food waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, neglect for workers’ rights and poor animal welfare.

Unfortunately, oomph has seldom characterised the Government’s work in this area. They have persisted with taking a siloed approach, trying to address these interconnected challenges in isolation. This has led to different Government departments creating separate and sometimes contradictory strategies according to disparate policy goals. Scottish Government has recognised that we need a more coherent, and joined-up approach, yet despite multiple commitments to a Bill to reform the food system (the Good Food Nation Bill), there have been years of delays, back-tracking, and watered-down policy commitments. Pressure from our Coalition, opposition parties, the public and many other stakeholders in the food system helped to bring the Bill back to the table.

The Bill was finally due to be introduced in Spring 2020 when the Government, understandably, took the decision to prioritise bills essential to coping with the pandemic. However, there remains a cruel irony that COVID-19 led to a delay in a Bill, which – as a result of the outbreak’s impact on our food system – is now needed more than ever.

Jobs: Food workers have suffered during this pandemic; those in the hospitality sector have taken a huge economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession. Additionally, they face great risk; workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19.[2] Even before the pandemic, people working in the food and drink industry are amongst the most likely to face insecure employment; in-work poverty with zero-hours contracts is pervasive across the food sector.

Health: Diet-related illness have been definitively linked with vulnerability to COVID-19 – people with type 2 diabetes are 81% more likely to die from it. Obese people are 150% more likely to be admitted to intensive care, and severely obese people over 300% more likely. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK – 90,000 a year – almost as fatal as smoking, which is responsible for 95,000 deaths a year.[3]

Food insecurity: In April 2020, the Food Foundation reported that in mid-April 2020, over 600,000 adults in Scotland were facing food insecurity.[4] This means that around 14% of the adult Scottish population are either skipping meals, having one meal a day, or being unable to eat for a whole day.[5]  Prior to the pandemic, Scotland was seeing rising numbers of food insecurity:  between April 2018 & September 2019, food banks in Scotland were giving out more than 1000 emergency food parcels on average every day.[6]

If current patterns continue, Trussell Trust has warned this could go up to food banks giving out six emergency food parcels per minute.[7] COVID–19 has not only worsened food security for those on low incomes; it has also created new vulnerabilities for people with previously secure incomes. 

While arguments around resilience in our food chain hit new heights on the political agenda following this year’s well-publicised supply issues, the need for a new approach has never been more apparent.

The Scottish Government has prioritised wellbeing throughout its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic – demonstrated by the £120 million investment to support people facing barriers to accessing food. But the underlying issues facing the food system existed before the pandemic; they are deeply entrenched. Stronger policy levers are desperately needed to galvanise systemic change.

However, this crisis has also shown what a new system could look like. We’ve seen some great stories of adaptation, and a renewed appreciation in the positive offerings of the food system. The pervasive disruption has jolted consumers into shifting their attitudes – with many thinking beyond their weekly supermarket shop. The pandemic has spurred a surge in demand for food boxes, community deliveries from local producers, and a perceived move to healthier and more sustainable buying. People are thinking more about where their food comes from.

We’ve been having conversations with people from across Scotland and hearing their thoughts on what the pandemic has revealed about our food system.

“Before COVID-19, Beach House Café in Portobello was a café we liked to visit. Since COVID-19, it has become our main grocery shop. A shop that knows our name, will flex to our diaries and work commitments and has shown us great care, energy, and commitment throughout. They are a shining example of what COVID-19 has taught me: cherish our local food producers, businesses, and organisations, as they truly are key workers that deliver so much more than our cupboard basics.”

We’ve seen communities come together, recognising that food is about more than calories – it’s about mental as well as physical wellbeing:

“I was so grateful for fresh fruit and some food each week from Blackhill’s growing group. I was having panic attacks at the thought of having to go to the shops…. standing 2 metres apart for 30/40 minutes just to get into the shop was pretty stressful for me. I am able to face shops a bit easier now. The friendly faces and chats from the folk delivering these food packages was also so appreciated.”

“What COVID-19 has taught me is that growing your own food is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health…  and with Brexit looming, increasingly my allotment has also signified food security.”

But there remains a recognition of the disconnect between the food system and the wellbeing of the population:

Stirling is surrounded by farmland. Farmland is a 10-minute walk away from anywhere in the city centre – yet despite great need, we were unable to source Stirling-grown fruit or vegetables throughout all of lockdown.”

Frustratingly, there is not enough time before the next Scottish election to introduce the Good Food Nation Bill. But COVID-19 has shown us beyond a doubt that reform is needed.

The Scottish Food Coalition will continue to call for the introduction of the Good Food Nation Bill, with human rights at its heart.

More people are at the sharp end of systemic inequalities and inadequacies in our food system and the shortcomings in its governance. They should not have to continue to bear this burden. Legislators must learn lessons from COVID-19 that they have consistently failed to learn before this crisis. The Government must act now to ensure we realise our human right to food.

All we are saying is: give wellbeing a chance.


[1] The Scottish Food Coalitionis an alliance of small-scale farmers and growers, academics, workers’ unions, and charities focused on the environment, health, poverty, and animal welfare. The coalition has over 35 members including RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, STUC, UNISON Scotland, Unite, Nourish Scotland, Trussell Trust, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Scottish Care and Leith Crops in Pots. http://www.foodcoalition.scot

[2] https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/partone/

[3] ibid

[4] https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Report_COVID19FoodInsecurity-final.pdf

[5] ibid

[6] https://news.stv.tv/scotland/crisis-warning-as-1000-food-parcels-handed-out-every-day?top

[7] https://www.bigissue.com/latest/foodbanks-could-give-out-six-food-parcels-every-minute-this-winter/

“But how would things actually be different in a wellbeing economy?”

This is probably the question that our team gets asked most often – and while there’s no single answer, there ARE lots of answers. It all depends on the location, and the issue area.

WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck has created a new section of the WEAll website exploring how the dominant economic system tends to respond to issues, from mental health to the climate crisis, and how a wellbeing economy would respond differently.

The current economic system (the “old way”) responds to the common needs of humanity and the planet in ways that do not address the heart of problems and do not make life better for all. In fact, often problems are made worse or at best responses act as ‘sticking plasters’.

In a wellbeing economy (the “new way”), responses would be person-centred, positive and long-term. The exciting thing is – the new way is already emerging, with inspiring examples around the world showing us the way.

This new online resource sets out indicative wellbeing economy responses to some of the major issue areas that decision makers deal with, and that affect all of our lives. It’s a work in progress and open to further contributions –we’re inviting people to submit their suggestions to keep developing the ideas and examples.

Check out the “Old Way vs New Way” resource now.

Guest blog by Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy, Carnegie UK Trust

Over the past two decades, the word wellbeing has increasingly been used in public policy. The relevance of the conversation in both policy and people’s individual lives suggests a deep-seated sense of unease at the way prevailing economic and policy processes are failing to enable wellbeing for all.

But there remains conceptual confusion about the core meaning of the term, what one academic referred to as ‘a cacophony’ of different meanings. This confusion brings a wide number of people into wellbeing discussions but does so at a cost – not all concepts of wellbeing have the same underpinning philosophical root and there are potentially rather contradictory implications from these different conceptions.

In the international wellbeing movement, of which WEAll is now a key player, wellbeing is understood as a way of measuring and thinking about social progress. The movement is often defined by what it is against, namely that social progress cannot be defined solely as economic progress, as measured by GDP. But there is less agreement about what the movement is for – ‘Living well’ (personal wellbeing) and ‘living well together’ (societal wellbeing) give us two broad mechanisms to do this but the policy implications of these two definitions are often in tension.

Personal wellbeing focuses on ‘living well’ and measures quality of life through subjective measures of life satisfaction and happiness (and so it is sometimes called subjective wellbeing). It has its philosophical roots in Epicurean happiness and utilitarianism. In classical utilitarianism, it is not the distribution that matters, merely the total amount of utility. That some are left behind is not necessarily problematic. A broader, but still personal, version of wellbeing has been promoted in the UK over the past two decades.

There are reasons for caution in using personal wellbeing as a guide for public policy. For one, evidence shows that there is a genetic component to wellbeing, which means that the proportion of personal wellbeing that governments can positively affect is smaller than it might first appear. Related to this, there are well known life cycle trends in personal wellbeing and distributive effects which require careful analysis and care. Environmentalists caution against the short-termism of an approach which does not factor in the potential medium to long-term environmental costs of policy decisions. And there are critiques that argue personal wellbeing is further individualisation of the role of governments, focusing on interventions on the person rather than structural changes that would alter the contexts in which people live, work, and play.

Societal wellbeing, or living well together, addresses these concerns by setting out measures that are understood by the society as being essential components of a good society. The philosophical roots are in the Aristotelian-eudemonic tradition which sees human flourishing as the goal for society. To flourish, basic needs must first be met, housing, education, health and so on. Basic needs are universal to human beings, but their realisation is relative. For example, we may agree that housing is a basic human need, but the quality of that housing, how it is to be provided and what is tolerated as good enough housing, will differ across societies.

While the absence of income, health or education may make flourishing difficult, their availability does not itself create flourishing. To flourish is understood as having a purpose in life, participating in society, having a community around oneself. Amartya Sen developed the Capabilities Approach which seeks to supplement purely objective measures with an understanding of what people can do (functionings) and be (capabilities). Societal wellbeing, based on this philosophy, is therefore a multi-dimensional concept that describes progress in terms of improvements in quality of life, material conditions and sustainability. Further, societal wellbeing includes the assessment of longer-term harm caused by actions that create short-term happiness, it is therefore a system for assessing social progress that incorporates both the present and the foreseeable future, often described as the wellbeing of future generations.

The balance between personal and societal wellbeing plays out in practice across the jurisdictions of the UK. In my experience, perception from outside Westminster is that personal wellbeing has ‘captured’ the wellbeing movement in the UK, with key proponents reinterpreting the word wellbeing as relating solely to personal wellbeing. Meanwhile the small devolved jurisdictions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have developed frameworks for measuring societal wellbeing. Their use of societal wellbeing, and the transformative impact it has on public policy, is explored in my next blog ‘The Value of Wellbeing’.

Jennifer’s book Wellbeing and Devolution: Reframing the role of government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is available open access available via Springer Online.