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Happiness Calculator: How Happy Are Americans, Really?

Does money buy happiness? Americans spent over $45 billion during Thanksgiving weekend, but we're still near the bottom of the Happy Planet Index.

Around this time each year millions of Americans begin shopping as if their lives (and their children's) depend on it. Yes, it's true that watching a four-year-old open a new Dora the Explorer doll or a six-year old tear through wrapping paper with sleep still in his eyes is something to behold. But still. This year, Americans spent over $45 billion during Thanksgiving weekend alone and yet we rank on par with Sub-Saharan Africa according to the Happy Planet Index. If money doesn't buy happiness why are we all acting (and spending) as if it does?

The World According to 2009 GDP

That Americans are spenders, debtors, and collectors is reflected in our gross domestic product—at $14.26 trillion, the largest in the world. But what does the GDP actually reflect about our happiness? And what does our voracious appetite for spending say about our well-being?

The Happy Planet Index, which we've written about before, is meant to provide another way to measure human success beyond GDP. It's based on a kind of holistic economics that recalls E.F. Shumacher's Small is Beautiful school of thought by calculating well-being and ecological impact among other things. That is, bigger (and more) isn't necessarily better. From their site:

The index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives.


The site now provides a calculator—a timely tool in this season—to measure your own well-being relative to others in the world. Based on your input it will tell you your approximate life expectancy, your ecological footprint (i.e. how many planets would be needed to sustain your lifestyle) and how your overall life satisfaction compares to others in the world. I'm still digesting the fact that we would need four planets to live the way I do. Maybe you'll fare better?

The World according to HPI

Top image (cc) via Flickr user ohhector

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