With millions of Zimbabweans having fled their country to look for greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, anyone who claimed that Zimbabweans were happier than people from their more prosperous neighbours would be considered nuts.
But this is what a British think-tank, the New Economic Foundation (NEF), says in its Happy Planet Index (HPI) for 2012 released this week.
The index covered 151 countries and Zimbabwe, which has consistently been written off as the country with the unhappiest people in the world, is better off than South Africa which is at number 142 and Botswana which anchors the table at 151.
According to the NEF, the HPI measures what matters: “the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them”.
It uses global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint to calculate this.
Experienced well-being is measured by asking people directly where they feel they would be on the ‘Ladder of Life’, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life.
Life expectancy is obtained from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report while the Ecological Footprint is a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns.
The happiest people are in Latin America with Costa Rica at the top followed by Colombia at number 3, then Belize, El Salvador and Jamaica.
Vietnam in Asia is at number 2.
New Zealand tops the Western nations at number 28. Britain is at number 41 and the United States at number 105.
Though its fortunes have been declining the Japanese are happier than the Chinese. Japan is at number 45 and China at number 60.