The Happy Planet Index (HPI) measures the capacity of a nation to improve its citizens’ wellbeing and, therefore, the power that each country possesses to influence its inhabitants’ happiness.

In 2010, Costa Rica was ranked as the happiest country in the world, according to a report on citizen happiness and life satisfaction, as ranked by the British New Economics Foundation. The organization studied the 143 countries that account for 99% of the planet’s population.

The HPI evaluates three variables:

  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Citizens’ reported level of satisfaction
  • Ecological footprint – the relationship between natural resources available and what is consumed

“In Costa Rica, the life expectancy is 78.5 years, and 85% of the inhabitants stated they felt happy and satisfied with their life, this country being very close to finding a balance between consumption and natural resources,” explained Nic Mars, one of the report’s authors. “Ticos gave an average grade of 8.5 to the country in which they live, and a 9.2 rating for their life, the second highest in the study.”

Of the study’s results, a few points stand out:

  1. It is not surprising that in these rankings, “the richest are not the happiest.” In fact, of the most “powerful” countries, or those that lead in other rankings (GDP, for example), such as Switzerland and the United States, most are not even found in the first 50 rankings.
  2. Nine of the top ten countries are in Latin America.
  3. Most of the countries in the top 20 have incredible beaches.
  4. “By sheer chance,” Costa Rica is a peaceful nation and has had no armed forces for 61 years. It was the first country to take this action.
  5. Regarding religion, Costa Rica is 74% Catholic (of that number, 47% are “practicing”), 10% are Protestant, 2% are Buddhist, and the remaining 14% are either atheist, agnostic or secular.