Happy Planet Index List

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World globeThe happy planet index, or HPI, is an index that determines a measure of happiness, per nation, based on environmental impact and well-being. What does it mean to be in the happy planet index? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the highest scoring country has the happiest people, or that by moving to that country you’ll be happy (that’s ultimately up to you). What it does show is how the efficiency with which a nation converts their share of the planet’s resources into longer and happier lives for their citizens.

What does the Happy Planet Index Tell Us?

The Happy Planet Index data show us that we still have a ways to go before achieving a sound level of happiness for the average nation. From the map, you’ll note that:

  • The United States, not surprisingly, has a ways to go to achieve happiness for the average citizen, as they are currently ranked in the worst category. Sad, considering the motto our founding fathers wanted us to live by – giving each of our citizens the ability for freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Central America has some of the highest happiness scores globally. Particularly high are Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Developed Nation Does Not Necessarily Equal Happiness

Just because a nation prospers economically, doesn’t mean it will rank high on the happiness index. Think about all the stress a high paying job creates, and all the environmental waste that ensues from a prosperous, industrious nation, and you can begin to see how sometimes, simple is better. In some of the less developed nations that rank higher, such as Bosnia and Burma, you’ll notice that sometimes a simpler way of life can lead to greater happiness. Countries such as Vietnam and Laos, where farming and crop production are staples of industry, you’ll see people leading a life that, not short of hard labor, is not marked by as much psychological and emotional stress that you may find in the life of an investment banker, politician, neuro scientist, or other high intensity job typical to a first world country.

Live a Simple Life

Another way to think about it is where people typically go on vacation. The stereotypical, idyllic vacation destination is almost always somewhere in nature that is largely untouched by man – a quiet beach, tropical island, or lush jungle/ wilderness setting are on the top of the list. What does this say? In this crazy, fast-paced hectic and industrious life style that many of us Westerners lead, many seek peace, quietness, and nature. In other words, a more simple and laid back form of existence. The sad thing is, in a society that has been built on industry and technology, it’s hard to survive or make enough money to “fit in” to society and survive on the basis of simpler means. But here at Earth’s Friends, we’ll do our best to bring you insight and inspiration into living in harmony, and happiness, with nature and planet earth.

About The Author:

Alex loves nature and does his best to take care of the planet. He doesn't take for granted the serenity that can be found in the stillness of an ancient forest, or the majestic power of the ocean's large waves as they crash on an isolated island shoreline. He wants to raise awareness for how simple it can be to make a couple changes in your everyday life that can make a huge difference for the environment in the long term.

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How interesting is this? Not surprisingly, the U.S. with their capital money mongering attitudes is not the happiest place on earth. At the same time, it appears that not even the “high lifestyle” cities in Europe (Zurich) or Canada (Vancouver) make the top of the happy pyramid.

Off to Central America I go! 🙂

What a novel idea – the Happy Planet Index! I had no idea this existed. I think it’s very interesting that Iraq is also in the “red” with us, and ironic that they have an even higher score than we do!

I wasn’t able to find any fully “green” countries (ie. all 3 components good) on the Global HPI list (only “light green”). Are there any? I suppose I would have to take some time zooming in on the map to find them if they are.

Also – is there any way to spot trends in the data? Ie. is U.S., and the world as a whole, better or worse off than we were say 100 or 1000 years ago?

It is so true that people who go on vacation almost always want to get out into nature and away from the city and crowded places so they can be at peace. It is also true that people seem to be pretty happy in warmer climates, I have noticed. Although even in warm climate areas in the US, such as Southern California, there seems to be a lot of stress even though there is a lot of sunshine.

What is the solution then? Clearly we cannot live in a world devoid of investment bankers, doctors, or neuro scientists, since each of these jobs must be performed by someone because each plays an essential role in making the world what it is. Most of the time we probably do not even realize how essential all of these roles are, but surely these people should be able to find true happiness as well, otherwise why would anyone choose these career paths ever?

The stress and unhappiness manifests in many ways around us, and I see evidence of it every day. Unhappiness can take the shape of a drinking or substance abuse problem, increases in road rage or driving accidents, higher crime rates, and general dis-satisfaction with your neighbors, society, and the government. Even disdain for your neighbors is a sign of unhappiness. These days, with the economic downturn, the unhappiness bug seems to be more prevalent and even worse. Yet somehow, these poorer nations continually are much happier, and still have less than the average American. I have to wonder if anything can be done.

Earth’s Friends looks at it that there are ways to learn from farmers and crop producers that make a happy nation. Nothing could be more true. I often find that I become so wrapped up in the stress of my own world that I really do forget to live in harmony and peace with nature. I even forget the joy of stopping to smell the roses. I think it is very true that one of the biggest things we forget in our culture is living in harmony with nature. Even with a high-pressure job with a lot of stress, we should be able to find bits of wisdom and inspiration that will leave us with more joy all day long.

I wonder how much of the happiness index depends on responsibility and education? Perhaps the stress that comes with being an advanced market naturally lowers responses to the happiness index regardless of circumstances, simply due to the nature of a developed nation.

Look at it this way: when it comes to international trade, America and Europe are the cutting edge, so to speak (Japan is also up there with us). After we broke away from the gold standard, nations across the world started basing their currencies on the U.S. dollar. Even now, decisions made by banks and governments about the dollar or euro affect not only one, but dozens of nations. In fact, the weaker a nation is or the fewer decisions it makes about its own currency and financial values, the more they are affected and even controlled by the decision the United States and leading nations in the EU make. The same is very true of trade policies. Single, powerful nations change the way that the world work by altering taxes, tariffs, quotas, and embargos. It may sound like small choices, but such decisions have a major effect on imports and exports across the globe. In other words, small decisions like these move wealth around, and on a superficial level happiness tends to follow wealth.

Granted, these decisions take place at very high levels in banks and governments, but the principle is sound and I would not be surprised if there was a noticeable trickle-down effect. In other words, even the average person on the street is aware on some level, even subconsciously, that these decisions play a major in the world? That the decision their country makes, decisions often made by people voted in by citizens of that country, will affect the world. Moving away from personal stress, this is a whole lot of national stress, a zeitgeist kind of stress that undoubtedly has an impact.

Even in families, a position of supremacy, from the breadwinner to the firstborn child, is associated with a greater burden and weightier psychological affect. It seems likely that, amidst the family of nations, the same thing occurs. This responsibility can weigh people down, especially when their thoughts are turned toward their position in the world, and the way that other countries operate – which is just what the happiness index survey does.

It is disappointing that the United States rates so low on the happiness meter! There is, of course, a correlation to how much wealth the US has and how poorly we are able to convert these resources into happiness. Basically, because we have so much wealth, we are bombarded by advertisements that play on our emotions in order to entice us to buy products. The ads can appeal to our sense of responsibility, our desire to be beautiful, or our wish to be happy (ironically making us feel unhappy in the process). There are many other emotions that are exploited by clever marketers attempting to make sales, and at the end of the day, we internalize these messages and feel bad about ourselves. This is my theory, anyway. But I think it is echoed by more and more people who are calling upon others in their family, friend circles, cities, and in the world around them to be happy already. Happiness is free and you do not need to do or buy anything special in order to experience it.

The US also has many high-paying jobs, and it is interesting to think that the stress of these jobs might actually be detracting from our Happiness Index. I also think it is interesting that the article mentions environmental waste as a detractor.

It would be an interesting thought experiment to pick another country and put it on the level of the United States or EU in terms of financial influence and international decision making, while lowering the United States to a status level with relatively little influence in the world at all. Government, financial, business, entertainment and religious leaders may all feel less pressure to perform, as their decisions will affect a far lesser number of people. Would our happiness index rating rise under such conditions? Happiness – the running-through-fields kind of happiness, at least – is often associated with low amounts of responsibility and having important decisions made by others. So perhaps the happiness index also acts as a responsibility index in its own way, a measurement of the weight that a culture feels on its shoulders. This might explain many of the effects and results of the index.

The second point is education. The more educated a nation, the more likely it will flounder on the happiness index. There are, of course, exceptions. European nations where the standard of living is very high often also have excellent education programs. Their smaller populations typically make adaptive, creative education techniques possible, and the results are almost always promising. However, on the whole education can be linked with low happiness index ratings in many cases.

I don’t find this very surprising, either. The more educated that a people group becomes, the more they realize the delicate balance around them, and all the ways that the world or their decisions could potentially go wrong.

Additionally, many people seem to have just accepted these conditions. You would think that most people would be very focused on doing things to help create happiness.

Another thing to consider is that education often leads to understanding of the ecosystem; of the damage that manufacturing can do, of the cold depths of space, of carbon footprints, of the impact of marketing and entertainment on the masses…in fact, on a whole number of depressing and negative aspects of the world around us. Some people believe that education naturally leads to greater incidences of depression and angst because of this wider understanding. As The Princess Bride so famously states, “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.” Harsh, but those jaded words ring true for a lot of people, especially those who have spent time looking at the world around them. Education creates new ways to excel, new ways to compare, and new ways to measure up to other people…and see how lacking you are. Perhaps it is not surprise that those nations least aware of the happiness index also rank more highly on it.

This education rule does not hold as true as the responsibility theory, because education can take many different routes and paths into different areas. Philosophy, after all, is a type of education, even though it is primarily concerned with living a life that you can be satisfied with. But current trends in education, especially in the United States, may be promoting a different sort of worldview. In effort to teach people to be practice wise, healthy, respectful living, we have to also teach what being bad or foolish leads toward. All the knowledge comes with a price – and that price tends to be, in fact, all the knowledge.

I’m not advocating that people become dumber and give responsibility to other countries just to bump up a few notches on a relative happiness index. But I do think that there are overarching factors at work beyond the stress of a modern job or can-do culture. Perhaps we seek out places of peace and quiet, like in the tropics or on top of the mountains, for a very different reason that mere stress-reduction. Maybe we go to those places to try and forget, at least for a little bit, where we come from, and what we know.

Then again, the more I think about this the more I realize that most people seem to trap themselves in lives of quiet desperation. I think it may not ultimately be a true education problem at all. In fact, it may just be that due to the higher standards of living we have achieved the desire for being overly competitive needs to be fed. Possibly it is this feeling competing against all of the other problems and issues we see going on around us?

I also wonder whether some people are just simply better equipped for happiness. Maybe this extends to certain cultures. In this study I also recall seeing that people in many tropical countries have very high levels of happiness. Maybe it is ultimately a combination of all kinds of different factors?

Spotted your write – ups, it’s cool. Very beneficial and interesting there are some ideas I haven’t heard before. Thanks for sharing.