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Tuesday, 06 October 2009 20:33

How to measure Happy Planet living

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The New Economics Foundation says that people can be happy without sacrificing their economic well-being. The Happy Planet Index shows that people can live long and happy lives without degrading their country’s natural resources. The people of Costa Rica are a fine example!


According to the New Economics Founcation (NEF) website the Happy Planet Index (HPI) is “… an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.”

The HPI relates environmental impact from human activities in a country and the well-being of people in that country; and then calculates the environmental efficiency in which these people are living long and happy lives.

Even though the United States has a gross domestic product (GDP) of over $45,000 per person (GDP is a standard measure of economic development) and Costa Rica only has a GDP of about $10,000, the people of Costa Rica are a little bit happier than the United States. [Statistics from New Scientist “Redefine the bottom line” September 12-18, 2009, pages 34-35.]

However, Cosa Ricans live their lives much better than Americans when it comes to not degrading their country.

Costa Rica also beats out Australia, the United Kingdom, and, in fact, all of the other 143 countries listed on the HPI.

Early on, the GDP was created to give a measure of economic development. However, it says nothing about personal satisfaction and social welfare.

Therefore, the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) was created later as a measure of well-being, specifically taking into account life expectancy and education as major indicators of well-being, along with GDP.

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Under this HDI measure, taken in 2009, of 189 countries of the world, Norway is ranked number 1 in the world, Australia, 4, the United States, 13, the United Kingdom, 21, Germany, 22, Costa Rica, 50, India, 134, and Pakistan, 141. [Statistics provided by Daily Times “Pakistan ranked 141 on UN’s human development index,” and New Scientist “Redefine the bottom line".]

However, the UN Human Development Index does not take into account how these measures will continue over time. It is only a measure of current well-being.

Thus, the New Economics Foundation created the Happy Planet Index to take into account well-being in the long-term future. The NEF states that its Happy Planet Index takes into account how sustainable well-being is for people in the countries of the world.

It measures the average life expectancy and life satisfaction of each country’s people against the ecological impact they have on the world. It measures “how many hectares each person needs to sustain their lifestyle. It gives an indication of how efficient different countries are at converting natural resources into long, happy lives for their citizens.” [New Scientist]

The HPI does not indicate which country is the happiest one in the world. However, it does state the relative efficiency by which each country converts its natural resources into long, happy lives for its citizens--and, thus, comes up with a ranking of 143 countries of the world.

According to the Happy Planet Index, the people of Costa Rica have the highest life satisfaction in the world, have the second-highest average life expectancy in the Americas, and an overall good ranking with respect to its ecological footprint (it efficiently converts its natural resources so that its citizens can lead long and happy lives).

For other countries ranked by the HPI, the United Kingdom was ranked 74 out of a total of 143 counties, Australia, 102, and the United States, 114. [New Scientist]

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According to the New Scientist article, “While Costa Rica has a slightly higher life expectancy and life satisfaction than the US, the most dramatic contrast is in the ecological footprint: on average, the footprint of a Costa Rican is just a quarter of the size of an American’s—a level that is almost sustainable."

Nic Marks, who is a HPI statistician, states, “People are frightened of giving up their quality of life to save the environment, but this shows that a happy life does not need to cost the Earth.” [New Scientist]

In other statistics reported by this report:

•    Nine of the ten countries with the best Happy Planet scores are in Latin America.

•    Life satisfaction and life expectancy, together, have increased about 15% over the past 45-year period. However, the ecological footprint, during this same period, has increased by 72%.

•    Two-thirds of the 36 major countries in the world, included in the HPI survey, increased (bettered) their scores from 1990 to 2005.

•    The three largest countries in the world, China, India, and the United States, have seen their HPI scores drop (worsen) over the past fifteen years.

For additional information, check out the July 4, 2009 NEF article “Costa Rica tops Happy Planet Index” and “HPI in the news.”

You can sign up to be a supporter of “Happy Planet Living,” by going to NEF's Engage.

The website states, “The HPI makes clear that we need to make changes if we are going to achieve true sustainable well-being. In this section you can take steps towards happy planet living by engaging in a variety of actions.”


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