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Go to the Market of Ideas

This stall was prompted by an interest in the promotion of attitudes and activities toward well-being, in preference to the pursuit of happiness through the accumulation of wealth. In the name of well-being, the stall set out to promote some reflection or assessment of personal well-being and to speculate on what the world might look like if well-being was to become a standard of comparison between economies national and personal.

The accusation that economics is measuring the wrong thing - beyond abject poverty, wealth does not make people happier - begs the question 'what then is our economy for'? The New Economics Foundation is a think-do tank focussed on changes in policy and attitudes. Several of their projects are directed toward this end: Are You Happy?, Well-being Manifesto for a Flourishing Society, European Happy Planet Index.

Thanks to Saamah Abdallah of NEF's Centre for Well-being for his help preparing information to support the stall and the experience of the Happy Planet Index calculator.

The stall also offered to Test your happiness using a short test devised by Ed Deiner.

The Happy Planet Index: An index of human well-being and environmental impact

nef (the new economics foundation) introduced the Happy Planet Index (HPI) in July 2006 as a means of comparing the progress of nations toward the goal delivering high levels of experienced well-being within the constraints of equitable and responsible resource consumption. Independently, at around the same time, the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) called for a metric capable of measuring “the production of human well-being (not necessarily material goods) per unit of extraction from or imposition upon nature” – the HPI does just that. The first HPI report, published by nef, with the support of friends of the earth UK in 2006 covered 178 countries across the globe. A second, in-depth report focusing exclusively on Europe, was released in 2007.

Introducing the Happy Planet Index (HPI)

The HPI assumes that the fundamental input sustaining our societies are planetary resources. The ultimate output is the goal of all human endeavours – experienced well-being and health. To the extent that wealth, material possession, technology and so on are important, it is because they contribute to these ultimate goals. Conceptually, the HPI is a measure of input-output efficiency – it indicates well-being produced per unit of resource consumption.

How the HPI is calculated

The HPI uses Happy Life Years - a combination of subjective life satisfaction and objective life expectancy - as a measure of experienced well-being. To calculate a nation’s mean HLY, ratings of subjective life satisfaction (on a scale of 0-1) are multiplied by mean life expectancy at birth. The resulting scores represent, in effect, happiness-weighted life expectancy.

The bottom half of the equation, resource consumption, uses Carbon Footprint per capita. This is expressed in terms of the land area required to support the plant life needed to absorb and sequester CO2 emissions from fossil fuels used by a country, given its levels of consumption. The measure takes account of “embodied” carbon associated with the production of goods including imports.

What the HPI shows

<image to be updated>

The scatterplot above shows Happy Life Years against Carbon Footprint for the countries of Europe. The top-left corner of the graph is where countries should aspire to be – maximising well-being and minimising footprint.

Strikingly, it is the Scandinavian nations who are closest to achieving this goal and hence score highest on the HPI. These nations have well-being outcomes that are amongst the highest in Europe, yet relatively low per capita Footprints. By contrast, many countries in Eastern Europe fail to provide good levels of well-being, whilst others in the West achieve good well-being outcomes but only at extremely high environmental costs.

Value of the HPI

As a metric of sustainable welfare, the HPI provides a radical alternative to existing GDP-based indicators. The first HPI report (nef, 2006) showed that some countries around the world achieve similar levels of experienced well-being whilst exerting much less environmental pressure. For instance, Costa Rica’s per capita carbon footprint is less than a quarter that of the average European nation, and yet levels of subjective well-being and life expectancy are both higher.

Results of the European analysis – reviewed briefly above – demonstrate clearly that in a world of real environmental limits and climate change, much of Europe is squandering the world’s resources on drastically diminishing returns. Moreover, the trends over time are in the wrong direction.

Unlike a focus on ever increasing GDP growth, HPI provides a clear road-map to a sustainable and equitable future.

Paths to a higher HPI

Investing in renewable and decentralised energy production

Energy is not the only cause of high carbon footprints, but it is a large contributor. Moreover, it is an area where decisive government action can make a real difference. Countries like the UK need to decentralise their energy production and make far better use of their abundant renewable energy resources.

Reducing inequalities

Inequalities – not just of income, but also of education, health and social opportunity – have a damaging impact on well-being. They deplete the social cohesion and social capital required to develop shared solutions to our environmental problems, and help drive the materialistic aspirations of over-consumption. Governments should aim to reduce inequalities where possible, and provide more support for local communities to thrive.

Support meaningful lives

Governments should take notice of the emerging science of well-being and its implications for policy. It is time that National Accounts of Well-being were explored as a serious possibility, so that policy-makers can better understand the impact of their decisions on the lives of people they effect.


The first HPI report has been downloaded from www.happyplanetindex.org around a million times. It received extensive print and broadcast media coverage across the world, in countries as far afield as Japan, Denmark and Colombia. The European HPI report, released a year later, was widely covered in the European press. The HPI has been presented at a number of academic conferences and a paper based on elements of the HPI methodology has been published in Ecological Economics (Abdallah et al, 2008).

The HPI has also attracted considerable political interest. Earlier in 2007, the UK’s Conservative party referred to the HPI in their Quality of Life report and came close to recommending it as a headline indicator for the UK government. Meanwhile, several Local Government Authorities in the UK and other regional/local agencies in Europe have expressed interest in calculating city- and region-level HPIs.

Do Good Lives Have to Cost The Earth?

What does the Happy Planet Index mean for you? The Happy Planet Index reports show that societal structure and policy have a huge impact on our well-being and on our ability to live sustainably. As such, the path to achieving sustainable well-being is one that must go via changes to society and government policy.

However, this does not mean there is nothing that you, the individual can do to move towards a good life that doesn’t cost the Earth. Here are 10 easy tips, adapted from Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth, the recent book edited by Andrew Simms and Joe Smith:

1. Take a walk

Living well is a walk in the park, really. Not only will you get a buzz from the exercise and a longer term health benefit if you do it regularly, you’ll reap psychological benefits from spending time in green space.

2. Have less, do more

We always think that the next must-have gadget or fashion item will make us happier, but our brains play funny tricks, making us gradually more dissatisfied with our possessions, leaving us always hankering for more and more (psychologists call this ‘adaptation’). In reality, most people would be happier if they spent more time doing enjoyable things with their families and friends, even if this meant earning a bit less money. The city of Sao Paulo in Brazil banned outdoor advertising as ‘visual pollution’. Its time to get of the treadmill…

3. Time is not money

It’s much more valuable. Nobody’s final words were “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Spend a few weeks keeping a diary of how you spent your time and then think about whether you really got the most out of it.

4. Think positively about the future and make plans

People who have clear life goals and are able to work towards the, by engaging in enjoyable activities tend to have higher levels of well-being than people who ‘languish’. Working towards a long-term goal is always more satisfying than the short term reward from a ‘quick fix’ like shopping.

5. Reduce, re-use, repair and recycle

The UK is blessed with a great culture of charity shops to enjoy, and the web has provided a limitless supply of opportunities to find second hand goods. If you must buy new aim for things that will last – it will save you money in the end. Challenge yourself to one small bag of waste a week. Compost, or if you live in a small space, get a wormery.

6. Cut your use of dirty energy

Buy green energy, or make your own with a range of renewable devices. Think of the satisfaction of knowing that your own home can sell energy back to the national grid, and consider how this will also protect you from rising energy prices. Start with an energy audit of your home, and get one of those clever monitoring gadgets that reveal your real-time energy use. Then you can gawp at how much energy boiling a kettle uses. You’ll soon see where you can cut back.

7. Live authentically

Demand authenticity, seek out things with character and individuality that are connected to a person or a particular place. As far as possible, avoid bland, identikit, corporately branded goods, and turn the tide on the clone towns created by having too many chain stores.

8. Eat well

Humans were never supposed to eat vast quantities of meat. From the mid-1950s to 1978, our consumption of meat in rich countries went up by nearly 50% per person. But nutrition derived from meat is extremely inefficient. It takes hundreds of litres of water to produces one litre of milk, and around one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions are related to livestock farming, the result of both deforestation and the flatulence of cows. A less meat-based diet will significantly reduce your ecological footprint. It will also free up money, so that you can spend a bit more on the quality of your food.

And buy organic, locally grown produce where possible. Organic farming methods, are less energy intensive, and more environmentally friendly. Buying food grown locally also cuts energy used in transport. Join a ‘box scheme’ and rediscover indigenous seasonal fruit and vegetables.

9. Grow well

Of course, the ultimate in local organic produce, is the stuff you grow in your own garden or allotment. Doing so, you’ve entirely cut out transport energy, and probably packaging, and you know exactly what chemicals you are putting in. Even better, growing your own fruit and vegetables is immensely satisfying and recent research has found that gardeners have significantly higher well-being than non-gardeners. And of course, by growing some of your own food, you can reduce just a little your dependence on increasingly costly international food markets. If you can get together a community group to set up a community garden, you could significantly reduce your food costs.

10. Leave behind the car

Cars produce approximately 23% of carbon dioxide emissions in the EU. Combined with the local air pollution impacts, the embodied footprints of the cars themselves, and the vast tracts of land they take up with roads and car-parks, they are an environmental disaster. They’re a public health disaster as well: road accidents are responsible for 34% of children’s deaths due to injury in the EU. And they have contributed to the shocking increases in obesity in the Western world, as people walk no further than from their house door to their car door.

Even getting on the bus or the train is a vast improvement for your health. Walking or cycling to get about is many times better still. And physical activity is not just good for your health, its good for your mood too - refreshing you and getting you ready for the day. If that doesn’t make you smile, get on a bicycle and, as you whizz past the traffic jams, just remember that each commuter you pass is basically hauling about 1000kg of plastic, metal and rubber to do the same thing that you can do with two legs and 10kg of bike.

Adapted from Simms & Smith (2008) Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? by Saamah Abdallah at nef (the new economics foundation) Centre for Well-being. Available from Amazon and local bookshops.

For more information email: well-being@neweconomics.org


Feedback from the stall

  • What kind of profit would you seek if not financial?
  • Being a bit pissed off is good - As a motivator being dissatisfied can provide the impetus to act.
  • It might be interesting to correlate value of cultural output with Happiness Index - to reflect the value of malcontentedness.
  • Surveys are transformative - Toolkits are good. The surveys used on the stall ask the user to respond or even prove the values of their authors. The survey's questions temporarily 'act' on the respondent. In contrast toolkits can be thought of as self-actualising, facilitating the desire to change behaviour.
  • The Play Ethic by Pat Kane
  • The survey only acknowledges an individual situation - not the societal - what informs the HPI?
  • In The Aesthetic Education of Man Friedrich Schiller talks about 'Spieldreib' (Play Drive)
  • Active will versus passive experience. Will is over-bearing - play shapes fluidly
  • It doesn't make sense to measure happiness
  • A work ethic and long-term goals are in some way investments in happiness postponed - debts to happiness?
  • I can choose to be happy
  • Why would you want happiness - scepticism toward the desire for happiness
  • Well-being is different to happiness - happiness was thought to be far more emotional and temporary whereas wellbeing is less fickle and far more essential

Additional Material

Richard Layard and his Well-being programme are important references for this territory but it has not been possible to represent them for the coming event.

Professor Martin Seligman
Three blessings - writing down three things that went well today and why
The gratitude visit - writing a gratitude testimonial and delivering it personally
Using your signature strength in a new way - taking the signature strength test and using your highest strength in a new way.

Ed Deiner Laboratory (featured on BBC website)
Satisfaction With Life Scale - a document
Subjective insights and tools may be the thing to look for.

Long term recall of satisfaction is a stronger motivator than strong in-the-moment emotions

When was the last time you were happy?

How intense was the feeling?

When was the last time you experienced a feeling of well-being?
When was the last time you experienced a feeling of satisfaction?
When was the last time you experienced a feeling of satisfaction in life

What makes you happy?

When are you next going to do the above?

Who are the happy people in your life?