Why do we travel?  Are we trying to find a better path forward for ourselves and our children?  There are many ways to pursue happiness, and close encounters with new cultures often lead us to reconsider what happiness means.  When we hear fellow travelers asking, “What is the best way to live?” and “Where does this path lead?” their answers often swing between the material and the spiritual.  How do we balance the two?

Now there’s an interesting new perspective emanating from respected economists that weighs factors such as health, a positive experience of life and the natural resource requirements to attain them.  It’s all rolled up into something called the “Happy Planet Index,” measuring “the ecological efficiency with which healthy and happy lives are supported”.  The New Economics Foundation devised this measure for 143 countries around the world (covering 99% of the population).  The results, displayed online via an interactive map of the world, show that less wealthy countries with significantly smaller ecological footprints have high levels of life expectancy and satisfaction.  In fact, nine of the top ten countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean (see our chart of the top twenty).  The 64-page downloadable report describes the methodology and shows index scores in full.

Where does the U.S.come in?  At 114th sandwiched between Madagascar and Nigeria.  The planet’s richest nation is dragged down by its voracious and unsustainable appetite for natural resources.  According to the HPI data, if all the peoples of the world were American, it would take more than four planets to support them.

A world traveler’s perspective and habits may dovetail with the values on which the HPI is based.  You can calculate your personal HPI using an online questionnaire.  I answered the series of questions fairly honestly and scored a 66.8-that’s about halfway between the world average of 46 and the target score of 83.  The results are accompanied by tips for improving your performance.  Maybe I’ll start by moving to Costa Rica.

Of course, it may take generations for the human species to arrive at the destination known as a Happy Planet.  For the immediate future, I take comfort that simply pursuing happiness is often enough.  To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, “It is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”

Happiest Countries chart


About The Author

Michael Hartung, editor of Healthy Travel Blog, serves as head of Product Development at HTH Worldwide. Mike is responsible for all product strategy and development for the company. Mike has over twenty years of successful product innovation to his credit. He has played a senior management role in three start-up companies and has built complex organizations in rapid growth environments. Prior to joining HTH in 2000, he served as President of U.S. Healthcare’s Workers Comp Advantage subsidiary, which he co-founded with Angelo Masciantonio. Mike has also served in senior roles at Aon Consulting, Vantage Health Partners and Managed Health Care Services. Mike earned an M.B.A. from New York University, an M.A. from Duke University and a B.A. from Carleton College.


  1. Good info! Bhutan is one of the top countries in the happiness list!

  2. Truly a valuable and newsy post. Happy Planet Index is a very good concept. I really appreciate it.

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