And the happiest place on Earth is …

… not Disney World!

Despite the theme park’s claim, Costa Rica actually takes the top spot, according to the New Economics Foundation. This Britain-based independent research firm uses the “Happy Planet Index” to determine and rank the countries with the happiest people. The organization’s goal is to build a new economy that focuses on people and the environment.

This year’s survey covered 143 countries, with Latin American claiming nine of the top 10 positions in the study. The Dominican Republic took second, followed by Jamaica, Guatemala and Vietnam.

If you live in a developed nation, it seems, you’re probably unhappy. Great Britain took 74th, and the United States came in at 114. But, the latter is happier than it was 20 years ago. China and India are also fairly unhappy, but mostly because they are pursuing aggressive economic growth.

Now, the results are skewed because ecological implications account for a substantial portion of how happy a country is. The study assumes that the further you are from carbon-neutral, the unhappier you are. I’m down for going green, but I really struggle to see how it plays such a large role in a country’s happiness.

Japan needs a panda

A beloved treasure of the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo died yesterday. Ling Ling, the panda who became an ambassador of goodwill of sorts, and a world traveler looking for a mate had heart failure. In human years, Ling Ling was 70. In panda years, 22.

Now the zoo is without a panda, and Ling Ling was without offspring. He was flown to Mexico three times to give him a chance to procreate. He also spent spent some time in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C according to this Smithsonian magazine article, I found. Most importantly, he was part of the peace agreement with China in 1972. People in Tokyo are broken up over the news and are leaving flowers and notes at Ling Ling’s cage.

The Ueno Zoo is hoping to get pandas on loan at least. Unfortunatly, it’s not like there are many pandas to go around–only 1,600 of them live outside of zoos. Their native environment is in China in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces. [see AP article]

Devra G. Kleiman, the author of the Smithsonian article, spent a long time studying pandas, both in the wild and in zoos, and provides a detailed account of their habits and habitat, including mating habits which may explain why Ling Ling never got lucky in love with pandas. In people love, he hit pay dirt.