It’s not about the money!

The Happy Planet Index for 2016 again puts countries in Latin America and the Asia Pacific region at the top of the list, ahead of more ‘developed’ Western states.

Unlike some other rankings, the HPI includes such factors as ecological footprint, life expectancy, and the level of inequality within a country. They aim to assess sustainable wellbeing, not just the short term situation. For more on the HPI, see
Costa Rica tops the Index, for the third year running: this tiny country has higher wellbeing and longer life expectancy than the UK or US, with a far lower ecological footprint. 99% of electricity comes from renewable sources, and the country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021.

The UK ranks 34 on this Index. The highest scoring European countries include Norway (12) and the Netherlands (18), but the countries with strong environmental policies, and governments still committed to strong public services and relative equality of incomes. The latter has been shown to increase wellbeing at income levels. See the book, The Spirit Level.

Alan with a youth co-operative in eastern Kenya

Happiness in Africa

It’s disappointing for me that African countries score fairly low on this Index, although my direct experience is that there is a lot of happiness in this vibrant continent. However, we know that may African countries still have low life expectancy, high poverty levels in monetary terms, and other challenges.

Africa has shedloads of problems, but the media tell us little about the millions of people across the continent who are living happily despite the many pressures. I’m basing my views on my own recent visits to East Africa, doing free consultancy for a UK charity, Farm Africa, and also on many other contacts, such as Global Eco village Network.

I’m thinking of the millions of smallholders, peasant farmers who still form most of the population in much of Africa. There’s always a risk that a Western observer has an idealised or simplified view, but Farm Africa specialise in working with smallholders, so this is based on real life meetings.

Smallholders remain deeply rooted in their land, and in the cycles of the day and the seasons. I still recall meeting a young people’s vegetable co-operative in Kenya, and realising that this grounded steadiness of working with the land is still passing down through the generations, at least to some extent.

Connections between people are the other big source of roots I see in Africa. They have a different, slower, deeper way of meeting people than we do in the West: wherever I met someone new, they would shake me slowly by the hand, meet my eyes for a long while, and ask “how are you?” with real meaning. Meeting someone new takes a while, because you share the stories of your families, but that gives the new connection genuine roots.

My most recent visit to Africa was a trip for Farm Africa to Ethiopia, which included a return to the Bale Mountains, an area I regard to the world’s most beautiful forest. You can read more about what makes the area special, and why eco-tourism can help, in the feature I wrote for Permaculture Magazine. The article is not available online: you can subscribe to the magazine through this link: