WHERE IS THE HAPPINESS? PART I
A couple of weeks days ago, I was working on a translation assignment for a project on urban planning and city development. It reminded me of the blog post on “liveable” vs happy places that I wrote last year and encouraged to look up recent reports on the topic. So I thought I'd pick up where we left off and share with you some studies that I found interesting.
Let me introduce you to the Happy Index Planet. The authors, New Economics Foundation (NEF), aspire to challenge traditional, well-stablished approaches by distancing from solely economic measures of happiness and instead, looking into how much “happiness” they get from the number of environmental resources used. The HPI does not consider GDP or income as a pivotal factor of well-being. If anything, GDP is seen inappropriate, as the usual ultimate aim of most people - in its broadest sense - is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. The premise of the HPI is the cost of happiness. In the grand scheme of things, consumerist capacity is an incredibly deceiving measure for how well off a nation is. Benefits often come hand-in-hand with exploitability, so whereas happiness in achieved at one location, someone on the other side of the planet faces the consequences of that well-being. The NEF slogan, “Economics as if people and the planet mattered”, suggests that the index is not a measure of progress either, but rather a measure of the “happiness” of the planet. In other words, it seeks to define the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being.
To do so, the researchers calculate a country’s happiness in relation to the wellbeing, life expectancy, and social inequality and then dividing it by its ecological footprint:
Using this formula, the HPI has found out that the most successful countries are those where people live long and happy lives at little cost to the environment. Costa Rica has topped the rankings once again (previously leading the chart in 2009 and 2012), with almost all its electricity coming from renewable sources. The 2016 ranking goes as follows (in comparison with the 2012 scores):
Costa Rica (=)
What is the key to Costa Rica's success? People's high wellbeing (10th of 140 nations) can partly be attributed to a culture of forming solid social ties within families, friends, and neighbourhoods. NEF points out that since abolishing its army in 1949, the government has reallocated those funds to social programmes such as education, health, and pensions. A great deal of attention has been paid to environmental protection: in 2015, 99% of the electricity was produced from renewable sources, while taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels are used to pay for the protection of forests. Costa Rica seems to be well underway in achieving its pledge of becoming carbon neutral by 2021. Despite the great economic inequality and lack of wealth distribution through taxes, these practices help the tropical nation secure the first place.
The following two countries - Mexico and Columbia - also have their fair share of problems with corruption and gang violence, show good scores on happiness and eco-print.
Vanuatu landed on the fourth place. Six years ago, this small island nation was at the top of the Happy Index Planet making happiness a part of its national brand. Trying to find out what Ni-Vanuatu are doing right, I visited the country in 2015. The answer turned out to be simple -islanders are self-sustainable and keep life simple. They seem to accept that what you’ve got is what you’ve got — and that’s all there is to it (you can read more about it here). Well, it'd be silly not to enjoy hydropower, wind, solar, and coconut biofuel when it is right at your footstep?
On the flip-side, Chad comes out at the bottom (140th of 140). This result is not too surprising: the oil-producing nation exhibits a high poverty rate, large eco-footprint, deficient infrastructure, low life expectancy, and turbulent relations between the Muslim and Christian regions.
What does come as a surprise, though, is the 139th placed country, Luxembourg. Apparently, the second highest GDP in the world does not equal an efficient economy: while the multicultural residents' high quality of life is sure and steady, the ecological footprint of this tiny land is staggering. Luxembourg demonstrates the lowest share of consumption of energy from renewable resources yet the highest energy consumption and highest car ownership rate per capita in Europe. If Luxembourg's footprint was replicated across the world, we’d need 9.1 planet Earths to sustain us.
Is the index an indicator of where to live in pursuit of a good life? Not exactly. The HPI doesn’t bet on the average person’s happiness per se. Happiness, after all, is an individual pursuit and a subjective condition that will differ from person to person. Nor is the HPI about which country all the happy people live in. If you are 100% efficient but have hardly any input (natural resource consumption) the output (your well-being) is still poor. For instance, Palestine ranks 22nd, ten places above Denmark. This doesn't mean that you will have a better life in Palestine. It infers that Palestine is more efficient converting consumed natural resources into people's well-being. So, this index tells us how efficient nations are in supporting their citizens to live good lives at this time while ensuring that next generations can do the same in the future.
You can also calculate your own score on the Happy Planet Index here.