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Don't worry, be Costa Rican

Costa Ricans sure are a happy bunch

The "ticos" (colloquial for Costa Ricans), just topped a new list of the happiest people on the planet compiled by an independent research group in Britain.

The country scores 76.1 out of 100 on the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index (HPI), which measures life expectancy, satisfaction and a country's environmental footprint. The index was released Saturday.

This is the second index the group has done. In the original HPI, published in 2006, Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific, was graded the happiest, Colombia came second and Costa Rica third.

Now, apparently, Costa Ricans are getting some satisfaction.

“As well as reporting the highest life satisfaction in the world, Costa Ricans also have the second-highest average life expectancy of the New World (second only to Canada). All this with a footprint of 2.3 global hectares,” reads the HPI.

Also, this index seems to just love Latinos. According to this year’s ranking, the world’s 10 happiest countries are all — except one — in Latin America and the Caribbean. Following Costa Rica, they are the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, Vietnam, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Brazil and Honduras. Nicaragua came in 11th.

The index punishes bigger, wealthier nations, turning on its head the idea that a nation’s GDP brings the brightest smiles. Of the 143 countries surveyed, the United States ranked 114th, sandwiched between Madagascar and Nigeria. The researchers placed their native United Kingdom 74th, just after Slovakia and before Japan and Spain.

The research group argues on the index’s Web site, “governments have been concentrating on the wrong indicators for too long. If you have the wrong map, you are unlikely to reach your destination.”

So why, you might ask, despite decades of social, political and economic hardship, are Latin Americans racking up the happy points?

The report explains, “Survey data reveals two key features of Latin American culture. One is the presence of relatively unmaterialistic (sic) aspirations and values, compared to countries with similar economic conditions. Latin Americans report being much less concerned with material issues than, for example, they are with their friends and family. Secondly, social capital is particularly strong in the region. Civil society is very active, from religious groups to workers' groups to environmental groups.”

African countries such as Zimbabwe ranked among the least happy in the world.