11 July 2009

How happy are you?

I have posted before about the need for something better to measure a society's well-being with than Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the overwhelming favourite, if not the only, yardstick used by the economic, media and political elite. I have discussed the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), both excellent measurements of a society's overall health. Now another alternative has come to my attention, the delightfully titled Happy Planet Index (HPI) , a product of the new economics foundation (nef).

The HPI is an innovative measurement that shows the environmental efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. It incorporates three separate indicators: ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life expectancy. The nations that top the index aren’t necessarily the "happiest" places in the world, they are nations that are achieving, long, happy lives for their citizens without over-stretching the planet’s resources.

The leading nation according to the latest nef report is Costa Rica with an HPI of 76. Zimbabwe ranked lowest out of 143 nations with an HPI of 17. Canada came in 89th with a score of 39.

You can determine your own HPI on the Happy Planet Index website. I calculated mine at 70, short of the target (a good life that doesn't cost the Earth) of 83 but better than the world average of 46. Apparently I am using 2-3 times my share of the planet's resources, which surprised me considering I live in a small apartment and drive a small car which I don't drive that much. On the other hand, I ranked tops in the satisfaction with life category. So it would seem I can be best described as a happy glutton.

Happiness is an arbitrary concept of course but it has meaning in a human life that GDP simply does not. The fact we are seeing more attempts to measure the health of our societies comprehensively in ways that matter rather than just on how much stuff we consume is a healthy sign, a sign of maturity. There may be hope for us yet.

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