Living on a happy planet


What kind of world are you bringing you child in to? Well, physician here in Australia, ampoule on average, website like this it’s a pretty happy one. And there’s an index to show just how happy we are.

Some economists have argued that happiness is related to wealth. The richer a country is, the happier it’s people. Others argue that is too simplistic. Some developed economies have wide discrepancies between the haves and have nots. That can make for a very unhappy society.

How do we measure happiness?

Personally, I like the Happy Planet Index* compiled by an independent think-tank in the UK called the New Economics Foundation. It takes into account three factors of happiness and rates each country accordingly.

The three factors are:

  • Experienced well-being. Basically the findings of a Gallup World Poll that asks people to rank their life on a scale of one to ten.
  • Life expectancy. You can be ecstatically happy, but it’s better to be around long enough to enjoy it.
  • Ecological footprint. The index is about the planet as much as the people. Can we be happy without destroying the environment in the process?


The index is calculated as follows:

happy planet index

 Living happier

Australia does reasonably well, but could do better. With a score of 42 we are well above the US (on 37), but way behind most of Europe, South America and Asia. You see, by this measure, wealth doesn’t count a lot towards how good we feel or how harmonious our life is.

Here we rank our well-being at 7.4 out of ten. Only a few countries rank higher. No surprise that we let the side down with our high ecological footprint, measured as a global hectare by capita – in other words how much productive land is required to support each person. In Australia we need 6.7 hectares. The UK who are only slightly below us on well-being, have a footprint of just 4.7 hectares.

It’s not just about us

What I like about this index is the consideration it gives to the future and to the environment. So countries where people consider themselves well-off don’t necessarily rise to the top of the table. It forces us to ask the question, ‘how much of my happiness comes at the expense of our children, later in their life?’

Costa Rica tops the table with a score of 64 – their well-being index and life expectancy is close to ours, but their environmental footprint is half ours.

So there’s the challenge – can we stay as happy and halve our impact on the planet? It’s an interesting discussion to have with the children and, when they’re old enough, there are lots of statistics to look at to try and put things in perspective.

two girls playing clapping games

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