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The Happy Planet Index

Happy Planet Index (2006 data) - Green is Highest Rating, Brown is Lowest.

How should we evaluate the success of our economy? The primary method now is GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, but that measures wealth creation not real well-being. In fact it assumes that creating wealth creates well-being without any regard to who is getting wealthy and who's not.

Bhutan pitched an alternative, Gross National Happiness, all the way back in 1972. A couple Nobel Prize-winning economists are behind the idea, but it never really caught on as an official measure for any other countries. French President Nicolas Sarkozy did say last year that he intends to adopt some aspects of it. But for now, Bhutan may be happy, but it is also lonely when it comes to economic measures. Part of the problem is there's no consensus on how to measure happiness, though we're getting better at it. And all that new academic work on the topic is helping data junkies make a compelling new case for new alternatives to GDP.

The New Economics Foundation is pitching an updated idea: The Happy Planet Index.

"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."



Statistician Nic Marks's data show us we are getting less efficient at creating well-being. We're using more and more planet to create less and less happiness. What we should do instead, he says, is:

  • build more social relationships
  • get more physically active
  • increase our awareness, or mindfulness, both locally and globally
  • engage our curiosity and keep learning
  • give or donate time or money to others
  • \n

In a way, he's making an economic, data-fortified argument for behaving Buddhist.

That makes total sense really. The Buddhist worldview was the inspiration for King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan in the first place, when he originally proposed Gross National Happiness decades ago. If only he had access TED cameras, powerpoint and 30 years of well-being statistics at the time.

Image: Super Cyclist, from Wikimedia Commons

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