Alternative Indicator: The Happy Planet Index

The ambitious Happy Planet Index hopes to bring the lives of everyone on the planet into a perspective that balances what's most important to our lives with what's most important to preservation of the planet. Because how happy can we really be if we're constantly staving off an impending apocalypse?

What is it?

The most recent Happy Planet Index rankings are from 2005, at which point the U.S. ranked 114th out of 143, with an HPI of 30.7 on a scale of 100. The data are compiled every five years; the U.S.'s index has been decreasing since 1990, when it was 34.2. Numero uno on the most recent list is Costa Rica (with an HPI of 76.1), and Zimbabwe rounds out the list at number 143 (with an HPI of 16.6).

What does it measure?

The Happy Planet Index is the first index to quantify the environmental impact of a country in relation to the ability of its people to live long and happy lives. The idea is that the index will show the degree to which happiness does (or doesn't) correlate to resource consumption. You can even calculate your very own personal HPI on its website.

How do they get there?

Don't be fooled by the touchy-feely name: the process to determine countries' HPIs is basic mathematics. It's a measure of the efficiency with which each country delivers the opportunity to live a long and happy life to its citizens. In other words, it takes into account people's reported life satisfaction, statistical life expectancy and divides that quantified data by the measurement of the country's ecological footprint. To learn much more about how the index is calculated, you can download the National Economic Foundation's report.

What does this tell us (really)?

Essentially, evaluating countries according to these terms shows that everyone has work to do when it comes to maximizing their HPIs. While Costa Rica, as the National Economic Foundation points out, has the highest overall HPI, its life expectancy is only 69 years.

But nobody's perfect

That's exactly their point, too. But what this index lacks, according to critics, is more current and complete information with which to evaluate well-being. Most of the data used to evaluate quality of life comes from the World Values Survey, which is done just once every five years and doesn't include most of the world's countries.

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