London: Costa Rica is very nearly paradise, not just for holiday-makers lounging on its beaches, but for its citizens who are extremely satisfied with their lot and also have a tiny carbon footprint.
The combination has earned the central American country first place in a new Happy Planet Index (HPI) published on Monday.
While leaders of the developed world attending G8 talks in Italy worry away at economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), deflation and their implications for economic recovery, the second edition of the HPI lauds alternative standards that provide a new twist on the old adage that wealth does not buy happiness.
Costa Rica stands out for the highest levels of reported life satisfaction, a long life expectancy of 78.5 years and because 99 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources.
Latin American nations generally fare well, bagging nine out of 10 of the top spots and Sub-Saharan Africa performs very badly, with Zimbabwe taking bottom place. It scores 16.6 out of 100, compared with Costa Rica's HPI total of 76.1, according to an advance copy of the report.
Somewhere in between are the world's wealthiest economies.
The United States is placed 114th out of the 143 nations surveyed, with an HPI result of 30.7 and was found to be "greener and happier" 10 years ago than today--as were China and India, ranked respectively 20th and 35th, with scores of 57.1 and 53.
"Following the siren's song of economic growth has delivered only marginal benefits to the world's poorest while undermining the basis of their livelihoods," said Nic Marks of the New Economic Foundation, a London-based "think and do tank" that pursues "real economic well-being" and is the brains behind the HPI.
"What's more it hasn't notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, or even provided economic stability."
The aim, Marks said, was "to break the spell" and work towards "a high well-being, low-carbon economy before our high-consuming lifestyles plunge us into the chaos of irreversible climate change."
To measure the efficiency with which countries convert the earth's finite resources into their citizens' well-being, the HPI takes three separate indicators--ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life-expectancy--and then carries out complex calculations.
First published in 2006 as "a radical departure from our current obsession with GDP", the HPI's sums have been criticised for not taking sufficient account of issues such as political freedom, but the index has also found followers.
Within two days of the launch of the first HPI, it was downloaded and read in 185 countries worldwide.
Among those who have taken up the idea are David Cameron, leader of Britain's opposition Conservative political party, and the European Commission has launched a programme "Beyond GDP" in pursuit of ways to measure progress better adapted to our age.
Anyone can calculate their own HPI though the Happy Planet Index website. www.happyplanetindex.org