OPINION: Forget GDP and adopt the Happy Planet Index!

Published by Marie-Amélie Brun on

17th of August, 2016

The Happy Planet Index revealed the result of its survey for 2016, placing Ireland in 48th position.

“Happy Planet Index : The Happy Planet Index measures what matters: sustainable wellbeing for all. It tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.”

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the traditional indicator for estimating the wealth of a country and its inhabitants. The alternative assessment provided by The Happy Planet Index is that it measures a nation’s wealth in term of the happiness and wellbeing of its inhabitants. It was created 10 years ago as an alternative to the traditional system, which tends to focus specifically on the economic progress of a country.
The Happy Planet Index takes into account 4 factors : wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of incomes and ecological footprint. This great creation encourages us to think about life and its value.

happy planet


happy planet index divisionWe finally have an indicator of what really matters, wellbeing. But why have we been told that growth and GDP were the most important thing and why did we believe it?

Growth has had a great part in the development of our countries. It has allowed education, health care and much more to become free and accessible to everyone. But the problem our society faces at this moment is pursuing infinite growth in a finite world. How far can we continue to produce and consume goods, and to what extent can we state that it is a system that makes us happy?

Have you ever heard this sentence from George H.W. Bush : “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”? This is a message that we can all hear on the lips of our politicians in western countries. The way of life that they are referring to is our modern consumption-based economies, which politicians are afraid to oppose and environmentalists desperately hope to see disappear. We all know that this way of living is not sustainable and that it is going to have to change, whether we want it to or not.

So why are we so attached to this way of life?
From a politician’s point of view, there is no surprise: they want to be re-elected and in order to do so, they propose measures that will increase or try to increase our well-being/happiness quickly during their mandate, mostly through economic growth and rising employment rates, meaning that the environment will be sacrificed if necessary to serve their short-term purpose.
From the public’s point of view, one of the reasons is that we have nothing else with which to compare our system. Westerners believe that communism has failed and even if capitalism is failing as well, what other option do we have? After all, growth, as it is told in the media, is the goal to follow at all costs.

With the Happy Planet Index we come across new information, and there is great news!

First of all, none of the western countries do really well in this assessment. Even if we have economic growth we are lacking something crucial : sustainability. We may not see the consequences of this failing right now but our children will.
We are in total disconnection with our environment and with nature that surrounds us. Does this make us happier? I am afraid not. Western countries are the greatest consumers of antidepressants in the world, to sustain this pace of life and disconnection, more and more people have to take medication, helping them to feel OK in this system.

Our apparent development has led to a lot of inequalities and unhappiness. The most shocking information is displayed in the graph below, showing the evolution of OECD’s countries’ happiness. The discourse of politicians arguing that growth and the exhaustion of natural resources is inevitable doesn’t seem really relevant at this point. There seems to be a problem between what is produced in term of happiness and the resources of our planet consumed to do so.

americas evolution happy planet index

Where is the great news? The Happy Planet Index has identified the only country in the world where wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of incomes and ecological footprint are working alongside each other! It might come as a surprise to you but Costa Rica is this marvellous country!

The Central American country has the highest rating in the index. Many years ago Costa Rica decided to invest in different things to many Western countries and it is working. Dismantling the army to focus on education and renewable energy is one of the choices that they made and helped them increase literacy and protection of their natural resources. The country is still involved in international trade, being a strong producer of bananas, pineapples, cacao and sugar cane, while managing to create a balance between trade and the wellbeing of its inhabitants, showing us that a fairer, more sustainable and more enriching system exists.

The Happy Planet Index shows us the limits of the capitalist system, which tends to overlook human values in favour of focusing on the economy. It is important in our society to rediscover this connection to turn society into one where wellbeing, happiness and ecological sustainability prosper.

map world happy planet index

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Marie-Amélie Brun

Marie-Amélie is a contributor to the Green News. She is currently completing a Masters in International Cooperation and Multilingual Communication at the University Grenoble Alpes.