Nic Marks – Measuring what matters: the Happy Planet Index 2012

Today we have another reblog – this time from Nic Marks, Founder of the New Economics Foundation Centre for Well-being, discussing the recently released figures for the ‘Happy Planet Index’.


Costa Rica comes out top, while the UK languishes at 41 – how did your country do?

We live in challenging times. Our financial markets are under huge stress, global poverties and inequalities stubbornly persist and the threat of climate change looms over all of our futures. A growing number of governments, politicians and ordinary people around the world are recognising the interconnectedness of these issues and the need for thinking about what “progress” really is in the 21st century.

They are realising that indicators of economic activity simply don’t tell us enough about societies’ goals of enabling good lives for their citizens. That is why a number of national governments are pursuing initiatives to create new measures of progress, why April saw the UN host a High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-being, and why next week’s Rio +20 international sustainability conference includes negotiations on indicators that go ‘beyond GDP’.

It is also why we nef (the new economics foundation) created the Happy Planet Index. The HPI is the leading global measure of sustainable well-being. As a new measure of human progress, it measures what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people who live in them. The 2012 HPI report, published today, ranks 151 countries based on their efficiency – the extent to which each nation produces long and happy lives per unit of environmental input.

The results  – which you can easily explore in detail on – show that we are still not living on a happy planet. No country has good performance on all three indicators of life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint. But some countries do considerably better than others – and those that do best are not who you might expect. None of the top ten countries ranked by overall HPI score are among the world’s richest – in fact amongst the top 40 countries by overall HPI score, only four countries have a GDP per capita  of over $15,000. The highest ranking Western European nation is Norway in 29th place, just behind New Zealand in 28th. Costa Rica tops the HPI table with a substantial lead – due to its very high life expectancy which is second highest in the Americas, and higher than the USA, experienced well-being higher than many richer nations and a per capita Footprint one-third the size of the USA’s.

The HPI results provide evidence for something we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth, and that it is possible to live both happily and sustainably. They show that while the challenges faced by rich resource-intensive nations and those with high levels of poverty and deprivation may be very different, the end goal is the same: to produce happy, healthy lives now and in the future.

In these challenging times we urgently need a clear compass to help us all move in the right direction.  The Happy Planet Index, with its clear compelling vision of progress towards sustainable well-being for all, can help nations and other groups around the world come together with a common purpose.

Nic Marks

Founder of the nef Centre for Well-being


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