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The Happy Planet Index: a Better Way to Measure Well-Being?
June 3, 2007 9:00 AM   Subscribe

The Happy Planet Index presents an alternative to GDP for measuring standard of living. It ranks countries by measuring life expectancy and self-reported life satisfaction against an "ecological footprint" needed to support that country's lifestyle. The press release claims that well-being is not based on high levels of consumption, but many don't agree. Full report in PDF here. Vanuatu tops the charts, while Zimbabwe and Swaziland lie at bottom. Critiques here, here, here, and here. A critique of happiness indices generally here.
posted by shivohum (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The better alternatives are less of a straw man, such as the Weighted Index of Social Development etc.

It's common sense. Is money the only thing that matters to you about how the economy and public expenditure is managed? No. I'd be a lot "happier" if the government tackled climate change and didn't start wars.

Alternative indices may be hard to construct, but the Bobby Kennedy quote that keeps coming up is surely hard to refute.
posted by imperium at 9:17 AM on June 3, 2007


Oh, and your first critique link is to one of this outfit's fronts.
posted by imperium at 9:46 AM on June 3, 2007


Colombia the second-happiest country on earth? Colombia? This isn't an Onion link? Are you sure?
posted by jfuller at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2007


self-reported

...and therefore meaningless.
posted by athenian at 9:52 AM on June 3, 2007


oh lord won't you buy me a mercedes-benz...
posted by bruce at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2007


Oh, and I could have told you Mexico is way happier than the US--just look at that human torrent of Anglo wetbacks heading for the better life south of the border.
posted by jfuller at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2007


...and therefore meaningless.

The report's authors claim that self-reported life satisfaction scores are well-correlated with other more objective measures of well-being.
posted by shivohum at 9:59 AM on June 3, 2007


Gross International Happiness
posted by homunculus at 10:32 AM on June 3, 2007


Oh, and P. S. the moment you start to ask whether you're happy, you cease to be.
posted by jfuller at 10:44 AM on June 3, 2007


118 Namibia
119 Sweden


This index only proves that some people find it hard to admit that they are happy.

123 Finland

And that confirms it.
posted by three blind mice at 10:55 AM on June 3, 2007


According to that report China has an ideal ecological footprint. Someone's ass must be sore from all the numbers that have been pulled out of it.

Finding alternate ways to try to measure how well or poorly different groups of our species are doing is important. That steaming pile of misinformation will make this endeavor more difficult by discrediting the entire concept.
posted by puddnhead at 12:34 PM on June 3, 2007



Oh, and I could have told you Mexico is way happier than the US--just look at that human torrent of Anglo wetbacks heading for the better life south of the border.


Likewise, with Cuba at #6, it explains the boatloads of Americans who find anything that floats and risk their life in order to sail to a better life in Cuba.
posted by champthom at 1:51 PM on June 3, 2007


If Switzerland is ranked 66 on the "Happy Planet Index" but has a life satisfaction number equal to the "Reasonable Ideal" then why the hell would I want to live in Colombia just because it's got a tiny ecological footprint?
posted by chimaera at 4:56 PM on June 3, 2007


This is completely insane. I think at least two of the top 10 are just relieved that their civil wars are either over or less intense than they were.

Colombia is pretty funny as number two, but Sri Lanka in the top 20 is pretty good too, what with them having a particularly nasty civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1983.

I consider myself a big environmentalist but somehow I don't think the answer to our environmental problems is to pretend that everybody in Central America is happy and try to persuade first-world nations to become more like them.
posted by lackutrol at 5:30 PM on June 3, 2007


Chimaera> The argument is that you'd be happier living in Colombia long term because society there will have to adjust less as we're forced to adapt to using less resources. Less for both for reasons of environmental practicality and because there won't be as many resources around to use. It's a good argument and one that warrants serious consideration. Too bad they poisoned it with bad data and sloppy methodology.
posted by puddnhead at 5:37 PM on June 3, 2007


Seems to me that it isn't a measure of happiness so much as it is a measure of a "happy planet", ie. third-world countries that use very little energy rate pointlessly high. #119, Sweden, for example, has 7.7 life satisfaction and 80.2 life expectancy - better than any country in the top ten, or even the top 50. It's left to languish at 119th position because of its high 'environmental footprint' of 7.

This is little more than the worst kind of environmental propaganda.
posted by reklaw at 5:56 PM on June 3, 2007


Also, the problem they describe would be very well solved by counting median incomes.
posted by reklaw at 5:59 PM on June 3, 2007


puddnhead writes "The argument is that you'd be happier living in Colombia long term because society there will have to adjust less as we're forced to adapt to using less resources."

Let's say you're in Sweden, and quite happy. The argument is that this is unsustainable happiness, and you're going to have to adjust to using less resources. This will make you unhappy. Therefore it is better to live like Colombia. Of course, to live like Colombia means...you're going to have to adjust to using less resources. So, long term, you're going to be equally unhappy either way. The only difference is, if you live in Sweden, you'll enjoy things short-term, and then deal with some unhappiness later in life. If you move to Colombia, you can skip all that short-term happiness and start your unhappiness now!
posted by Bugbread at 7:26 AM on June 4, 2007


several countires had life expectancy in the 30s


Thats more striking than anything else I read.
posted by crewshell at 10:41 PM on June 4, 2007


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