The Happy Planet Index

Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity — instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people. He introduces the Happy Planet Index, which tracks national well-being against resource use (because a happy life doesn’t have to cost the earth). Which countries rank highest in the HPI? You might be surprised.


  1. #1 Tamakazura
    September 12, 2010

    I have friends who are into this and also idea-hive errr…world views.
    After giving it some thought I have decided I would rather be sort of happy in a place with higher education, human rights, and basic sanitation.

  2. #2 John
    September 12, 2010

    I disagreed with a lot of this video. My first point of contention is his chart saying people want “happiness”. Well of course. I would be willing to bet that wealth plays a role in happiness. I think a study just came out saying that happiness is increased the more money a person makes up to $75,000. Health also takes money. Love, arguably doesn’t take much, but I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of rich guys who, though undoubtedly in love, are with a woman traditionally considered “out of his league”.

    Secondly, his chart showing the happiness of countries relative to ecological impact didn’t back up his point. The trend shifted rightward. The happiest nations consume more, and there are no unhappy countries that consume a lot. There are a few outliers but a general trend is quite visible.

    Lastly he suggests that the industrial countries should just even out with the rest in terms of happiness and ecological impact. The idea that powerful nations will vastly reduce what they consume and become a bit unhappier so that the rest of the world can be “pulled up” strikes me as pure pipe dream and therefore not really worth considering.

  3. #3 Hervé Musseau
    September 12, 2010

    What I conclude from this talk, and from looking at their website, is that they peddle propaganda, not statistics.

    Their chart is (probably intentionally) misleading.
    It plots happiness and ecological footprint, and then derives from it a “ha…ppy planet index”. Yet you will notice that it isn’t actually derived at all; if it were, since happiness is prett…y much always increasing, yet footprint oscillates (after an initial surge), the derived hpi should oscillate too, and be sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Yet it remains depressingly flatlined and negative in their chart. How did they do that? Because they calculated a hpi based on 1961! And since there was a big surge in ecological footprint in the 60′s, well, you get their graph.
    But if they had taken, say, 1980 as their baseline, their hpi would look very different. Good, actually.
    Bottom line is, although we increased our burden on the planet in the 60′s in order to increase our happiness, we have since continued to increase our happiness without further taxing the planet. So all the talk of impeding ecological doom is BS.

    Additionally, if you go to their site and try to understand how they calculated each country’s ecological footprint, you will be disappointed. Their “report” is very much empty on the subject, only saying that they used some averaging metho…ds, using various variable like electricity consumption. That’s why countries that use a lot of renewable energy (like Iceland and other Scandinavian countries) or France (nuclear) have a bad ecological footprint anyway since they consume a lot of energy.
    Pathetic. Reminds me of how the WWF fudges the CO2 emissions of countries with a lot of nuclear because they deem it unsustainable. Well, the WWF uses the hpi figures, apparently – figures.

    I’m all for more sustainability, and happiness. But not by lying, people. The truth, please. What’s the point of beginning the talk by promoting dream over nightmare, inspirational talk rather than fear-mongering, but then misrepresent real…ity and fudge data?
    Truth over lies, please.

  4. #4 zackoz
    September 12, 2010

    Wasn’t Bhutan way ahead on this idea?

  5. #5 Peter
    September 15, 2010


    The NEF make no secret of their mission to promote an alternative economics that takes human happiness and environmental sustainability into account. Why are they “lying” any more than any other think-tank? I’d say they’re lying rather less than most because they’re actually addressing some fundamental issues about the direction in which society is travelling while many think-tanks are stuck in the “GNP FTW!!!eleventyone111!!!” mindset.

    Yet it remains depressingly flatlined and negative in their chart. How did they do that? Because they calculated a hpi based on 1961!

    No, that’s not “how they did that”. If you read the report, you’d see how the HPI is calculated, and nowhere does it require 1961 or any other year to be chosen. All they’ve done, for the purposes of this graph, is to normalise happy life years, resource use and the HPI to 100% in 1961. Why? Because it happens to be the start of the time series. This is standard practice, makes no difference to the meaning of the graph, and is perfectly valid. It is normally done to make graphs easier to interpret, by helping you see whether a variable. That’s the only reason.

    Additionally, if you go to their site and try to understand how they calculated each country’s ecological footprint, you will be disappointed.

    Perhaps because (as they say clearly) they are using WWF figures for 134 of 143 countries. Normal practice is to go to the source for further information – it’s not fair to criticise NEF when your issue is apparently with the WWF. For the remaining nine countries where data was partially lacking, they explain briefly how they compensated for this in the appendix to the report (pp. 53-4), and invite the reader to contact them for further information. Have you done so?

    As for “fudging” CO2 figures for nuclear because it is allegedly unsustainable: again, perhaps you’d explain why you think the WWF has it wrong? You’re not claiming, for instance, that nuclear power generation has lifecycle CO2 emissions anywhere near as low as those of renewable generation?

  6. #6 Peter
    September 15, 2010

    End of para 4 of my comment should have read:

    …by helping you see whether a variable‘s value has increased or decreased over time. That’s the only reason.