Is there such thing as a “happy” country?

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in 2006. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the usual ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy.

The HPI is based on general utilitarian principles — that most people want to live long and fulfilling lives, and the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, whilst avoiding infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same. Countries with relatively high levels of life satisfaction, as measured in surveys, are found from the very top (Colombia in 6th place) to the very bottom (the USA in 114th place) of the rank order. The HPI is best conceived as a measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country. Each country’s HPI value is a function of its average subjective life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita.

From the other side, the World Happiness Report is a measure of happiness published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. In 2011, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies. On 2012 this was followed by the first UN High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,”, the first and so far only country to have officially adopted gross national happiness instead of the gross domestic product as the main development indicator.

The first World Happiness Report drew international attention as the world’s first global happiness survey. The Report outlined the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications; and leading experts in several fields – economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, and more – describe how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. The second Report delved deeper into issues relating to happiness, including mental illness, the objective benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics, policy implications, and links with the OECD’s approach to measuring subjective well-being as well as the Human Development Report.

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