Today I watched this video of a guy called Nic Marks, from the New Economics Foundation giving a talk about what he terms the “Happy Planet Index”. It’s a way of measuring a nation’s progress, as an alternative to GDP. I think it’s a brilliant idea because GDP doesn’t necessarily reflect a nation’s level of happiness… Of course it does give an idea of it, as of course you need your basic material needs to be met before happiness is reached, and countries with a high GDP will be sure to have this requirement sussed. But that’s pretty much where the usefulness ends, as after you have “enough”, happiness relies on factors other than consumption. And of course GDP is not at all concerned with social justice, sustainability, biodiversity, state of natural capital or anything like that. I feel that as the first and foremost measure of how well a country is doing, it’s outdated.
The “Happy Planet Index” by contrast, measures how efficiently a country uses natural resources and services to create happiness for it’s citizens. In the talk, Nic shows a graph with human lifespan and happiness (I’m a bit confused about how these have been lumped together, but never mind, the principle is good) up the Y axis, and ecological footprint on the X axis. So, countries with the highest ranking in the Happy Planet Index will be in the top left – that’s happy, long-living and with a low impact on the environment. That’s what we’re aiming for. As you can probably guess, the USA and the UK are in the top right – pretty happy (but not the happiest) but “using a lot of planet” to achieve it, meaning that many countries are pushed into the bottom left.
Apparently the country estimated to be the happiest, with the highest level of well being, is Costa Rica. As if this status isn’t enough, (which, okay, it isn’t…) they also generate %99 of their energy from renewable sources and disbanded their military years ago. Wow! Happy, sustainable and peaceful… That’s exactly how we’d like the whole world to be, hm? Maybe we should take a leaf out of Costa Rica’s book.
I like the idea of the Happy Planet Index (look, no quote marks now – I’ve accepted it into my normal vocabulary) and I think it puts forward a great objective to strive towards. Nations seem to like to be competitive, and if we can compete as to who can make their people the happiest on the smallest input of natural resources, then that’s pretty good. It’s much more relevant then competing to make the most money. Money has had plenty of time in the limelight, and although we may still need it around for the foreseeable future, I don’t think we need to focus on it to the point that we’re blinkered to the many more important issues vying for our attention.
To rank highly in the Happy Planet Index, we’ll need plenty of innovation, imagination and intelligence. But that’s okay, doesn’t the human race like a challenge?
Here’s the video for you to watch!