In this index, happy does not really mean happy

The New Economic Foundation ranked Costa Rica again first on its annual Happy Planet Index. But more and more news outlets are tumbling to the fact that this means something other than what the words imply.

As the Associated Press said: This does not mean that Costa Rica is home to the world’s cheeriest people, but rather that the Central American country has reached a balance where its citizens lead relatively long and satisfied lives without an outsized impact on the planet.

Despite what the index says, readers can expect another flood of promotional material claiming Costa Rica has the happiest people. That has been going on since 2009 when Costa Rica was in the top spot followed closely by the happy folks in Vietnam.

This year Costa Rica battled through Vietnam again and Vanuatu, Bangladesh, Mexico and Colombia to regain the top spot.

“People living in Costa Rica have higher well being than the residents of many rich nations, including the U.S.A. and the U.K., and live longer than people in the U.S.A. And all of this is achieved with a per capita ecological footprint that’s just one third of the size of the U.S.A.’s,” said the foundation.

The index is weighted heavily by what is called the ecological footprint. That is supposed to be the average impact that residents of a country place on the environment. Costa Rica has a hidden advantage in the index because much of its electrical power is produced by hydro projects.

But the country could be happier on the index, according to the foundation, if public officials would just raise the taxes to effectively redistribute wealth across the population.

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