Jamaica has moved up 50 places in the last three years to be ranked the third "happiest country" in the world", in the latest Happy Planet Index, published by Britain's New Economics Foundation.
Jamaica was placed 53rd on the list, an index of human well-being and environmental impact, when it was first published in July 2006. It moved up to third behind regional countries, Costa Rica, number one, and the Dominican Republic, number two, in the second report made public on Saturday.
The performances of the top three countries were indicative of the Central and South American region which ended up with nine of the top 10 places with Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras also included in the top 10. Cuba was ranked number seven.
The report said that Jamaica's appearance in the top three on the list came "somewhat" as a surprise as, "it is fair to say that the country has been in some economic trouble for over 30 years, resulting in high levels of inequality and unemployment and some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
"And yet, despite these problems, the island is able to maintain some of the best levels of health in the developing world, as indicated by its high average life expectancy. Together with its very small ecological footprint, it is this which puts Jamaica towards the top of the HPI table," the report stated.
It refers to American Professor James Riley's book, 'Poverty and Life Expectancy: The Jamaica Paradox', noting that between 1920 and 1950, life expectancy in Jamaica increased from 36 years to 55 years, despite stagnant GDP growth.
"As a result, most Jamaicans have access to improved water - unusual in a country with a GDP per capita one-tenth of that of the United States. Also of note are the conditions around childbirth in the country: 97 percent of babies are born with the assistance of skilled health professionals, and only four percent of children are underweight," the report stated.
It also said that despite high inequality, "Jamaica is able to ensure that few people fall in the most extreme poverty bracket. The proportion of people living on under (US) $1-a-day is less than in richer countries, such as Costa Rica, Argentina or Turkey."
The report said that Costa Rica's high levels of "reported life satisfaction, and "happy life years", made it stand out.
"This is no matter of chance. Costa Rica, a haven of democracy and peace in turbulent Central America, has taken very deliberate steps to reduce its environmental impact," the report stated, while noting that Costa Rica has the fifth lowest human poverty index in the developing world.
The Dominican Republic had a medium score in the Human Development Index, depends on the United States for trade and has high levels of inequality, but the report said that, unlike many of its neighbours, it managed to achieve a life expectancy of over 70 years with a very small environmental footprint.
Rich, developed nations fared poorly. The highest placed Western nation was the Netherlands at 43rd. The United Kingdom was at 74th, well behind Germany, Italy and France, but ahead of Japan and Ireland. The USA fared particularly poorly at 114th of the 143 countries surveyed.
The index attempts to measure how well countries use their resources to deliver longer lives, greater physical well-being and satisfaction for their populations. The report sets out a 'Happy Planet Charter', calling for an unprecedented collective global effort to develop a new narrative of human progress, encourage good lives that do not cost the earth, and reduce consumption in the highest-consuming nations. It also calls on Governments to measure people's well-being and environmental impact consistently and regularly, and develop a framework to achieve sustainable well-being.