The Happy Planet Index: Doing Development Differently 1

This week’s blog comes from Aoife Kirk, Aoife is a past participant and leader of Insight and has been working with Development Perspectives for the last 4 months.

hpiWe are endlessly in search of happiness which can seem unattainable at times. We can find it in our friends and family, our work, on a Sunday morning lie in and in the simplest things around us. Our lifestyle choices determine our happiness levels. Our eating habits and exercise impacts our physical and mental health. We live in economies and societies that pressurise us to earn and spend money. Many are pressurised to have a high income to maintain a certain standard of living so as not to fall into relative poverty- when a person cannot afford to socialise regularly or go on shopping sprees. Our environment has a massive influence on our happiness, this includes the weather, food and public services. The past winter in Ireland has seen up to 9 storms with major flooding leaving homes and livelihoods destroyed which can only be linked to the effects of climate change.

The United Nations created the International day of Happiness in 2012, recognising that the pursuit (not the attainment) of happiness is a fundamental human goal and “recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples”. This day takes place annually on the 20th March. The UN invites all its member nations to promote this day and use it to engage the public through events and education about global happiness and well-being. It is very important that an international body has placed priority on sustainability and the well-being of people. Bhutan began the initiative in the 1970s by placing the importance of national happiness over income and since then, this concept has spread into measuring country development.

Happiness and well-being in our lives is a great indicator of personal and global development. If it’s that important for us to be happy, then why not use it when measuring a country’s development? The Happy Planet Index (HPI) was established by the New Economics Forum in 2006. It takes into account the happiness of each country by looking at people’s life expectancy, their experienced well-being as well as their carbon footprint. It challenges the status that has been given to GDP and the Human Development Index (HDI) as mainstream measurements of development.

The HPI throws the whole concept of mainstream development on its head. America, China, Japan, Germany and the UK top the list of most developed countries when we use GDP as a measurement. The HDI changes the profile of this just slightly with Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands in the top five of most developed countries. The HPI on the other hand places the southern hemisphere in the spot light and ranks Costa Rica, Vietnam, Colombia, Belize and El Salvador as the top five in their index. This change of perspectives is refreshing for development. Costa Rica reports a high life expectancy, good well-being among its peoples as well as a very low ecological footprint. Costa Rica is proof that we can be happier people, with long healthy lives while at the same time being kinder to our planet and to protect our environment.

Economic growth is an important factor for development as it allows states to invest money earned into their countries, however focusing on it solely as a measurement of development is one sided and unfair. “Development” is an ongoing process. For me, there is no such thing as a developed country. Every country faces their own challenges, in Ireland we face social justice challenges, and therefore I would not call it a “developed” country. Collectively, we face far greater challenges. We are all developing, and need to take into account the HPI when measuring our development. Our well-being, and that of our environment is essential to our survival and quality of life on this earth. A happy planet means happy people.


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One thought on “The Happy Planet Index: Doing Development Differently

  • Paul

    Great article. I hate the measurement of GDP as it just doesn’t take into account inequality. As I have spoken about in a previous blog, the US is the most unequal “developed” nation.

    I think the people of Bhutan are much more in touch with human needs. Will the happiness index ever fully catch on? Sorry to say that I don’t think so. Personally, I blame religion……not any of the religions you may think. I am talking about the religion of Capitalism where money is God!!!