The Happy Planet Index

Major international news sources (Reuters, BBC, SMH) have been running numerous stories about recent ‘research’ quantifying how happy people are in different countries. The result is the so-called Happy Planet Index (HPI), a vast load of crap if ever I’ve seen one. The index is allegedly designed to quantify peoples’ quality of life in such a way that accounts for life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental footprint. In practise it is designed to give credence to the idea that the less environmental impact you have, the happier you will be. Based on their results they find that Vanuatu is top-of-the-list, trailed closely by a host of other South Pacific Islands. As one might expect from an index of this nature, most of the industrialized countries end up somewhere down the bottom of the list. Oh, what a surprise.

So, how is this ‘index’ calculated. According to their web-site,

HPI =
Life satisfaction x Life expectancy

Ecological Footprint

where the ‘ecological footprint’ parameter is related to how much land it takes to sustain one person.

Let’s see now. As ‘ecological footprint’ becomes small, the HPI asymptotically approaches infinity, up to an overall multiplicative factor of ‘life satisfaction x life expectancy’. God I wish people would stop publishing crap like this.

Having said this, I do believe that measures of well-being do need to be fundamentally re-evaluated. Obviously economic indicators are insufficient for this purpose. However, designing essentially rigged indicators, which are intended to blatantly promote a political agenda, is not the sort of approach that should be receiving widespread attention by the press.

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