The Happy Planet Index…

Today I spent some time reading about the Happy Planet Index. This is a project conducted by the New Economic Foundation (NEF), an independent think-and-do-tank with a mission to inspire and demonstrate real economic-well being. In a nutshell, its about showing that living a good life doesn’t have to damage the earth.

Just to warn you, there is a good chance I’ll make a mess of explaining how this Index works, so you are advised to read about it for yourself. Nonetheless, I will attempt to tell you what I’ve learned today.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI), as I understand it, is meant to present individuals and nations with an alternative way of measuring positive ‘growth’, instead of simply looking at Gross National Product and other purely monetary measures of national prosperity. There is much research to suggest that just because a nation is rich, has material wealth, and shows economic growth every year, it doesn’t always correlate with a happy and healthy population. Additionally, it addresses the costs of our efforts to gain happiness and prosperity on our lovely planet Earth.

So, the HPI uses these three measurements: life expectancy, overall subjective happiness and well-being, and the ecological footprint (or Carbon footprint in Europe) of people in 143 countries around the world. Using a simple formula, the Index measures the ecological efficiency with which we gain human well-being. It doesn’t measure which countries are happiest, or the best to live in. It just tries to demonstrate how the costs to the environment measure up to the level of human happiness people experience from country to country. Maybe people in North America and Europe are fairly happy, for example, but the environmental cost is extremely high, so the HPI argues that this is not an efficient set up (in fact, according to the statistics provided by the HPI website, if everyone in the world lived like Americans, we would need more than 4 planets to provide for all the resources we consume! Aaaah!) . Conversely, for example, Nicaragua has a reasonably high level of life satisfaction, as well as a low ecological impact, so they are more efficient, according to the HPI.

One thing is certain: no country gets a good grade. Every country has plenty of room for improvement in life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological impact. This is a call to action, for individuals and nations to think about a vision for the future of our societies and life on the planet. Simply focusing on monetary economic growth isn’t the answer. We need to come up with better ways to create satisfying and fulfilling lives, while also trying to not kill the planet we’re living on!

Anyway, I took the HPI survey to measure my overall well-being as a person and my environmental impact, compared to other people throughout the world. I wanted to see how I measured up to the international averages.

I learned some interesting things. For starters, my personal Happy Planet Index (HPI) is 61.7, which is above the world average of 53.5. However, it is still far below the ideal target of 83, which represents a good life that doesn’t cost the earth.

My life expectancy is… AMAZING! I am projected to live to be 91.9, which is well above average for my gender. Yippee! I hope a house doesn’t fall on me before then. I doubt that sort of thing is taken into account by this survey.

Now here’s some of the bad news: I am using 2-3 times my fair share of the world’s resources. If everyone in the world lived like me, with my current rate of consumption and resource usage, we would need more than 2 planet Earths to provide for us! Aaaahhhh! Apparently, I’m still a little bit below the average for the industrialized world, so I’m doing some things right but doing pretty poorly in other areas.

I would like to say, in my own defense, that in this past year I did make some large purchases, which were out of the ordinary. I bought a new laptop and I also bought a new mobile phone (nothing fancy) because my old one, which I had for years, finally broke. But these were sort of once off purchases, and I think in general I don’t buy too many electronic things, etc. But, on the other hand, I am not currently recycling and I fly fairly often, which I imagine increases my ecological footprint a lot. I shall have to make some improvements.

In the area of Life Satisfaction, I seem to be doing rather well, above average, in fact. My current mood is also happier than the international average. (Its a good thing I didn’t take this survey a few weeks ago. I think my scores would have been a bit different.)

I am also above or at the average for social connections and interactions, as well as in my feeling that I have the freedom to be myself. I could improve a bit in the area of feeling like I’m making  a difference. But I think I’m always very hard on myself in this category and I never quite feel like I’m doing enough to help others. I feel like I think about doing good more than actually doing good, but I’m not too bad in this category either, I guess.

So, there you go. Not too bad, but there is some definite room for improvement in my overall well-being and in the cost of my happiness to the planet.

Anyway, if you have about 5-10 minutes free, I recommend taking the HPI survey to see how you measure up to the target, and maybe get some ideas of simple things you can do to improve the efficiency of your happiness and consumption. I’d love to hear your feedback on this survey, what scores you got (don’t worry, no judgments!), or any ideas or thoughts you have on this topic. You can also sign the Happy Planet Charter to show your support and commitment to living a happy life that doesn’t cost the earth.

Okay, that’s it for now. Happy living!


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