I recently subscribed to Ted Books, the books expand on the great ted.com video series adding detail and resources that the short video format does not allow. One of the first books I read was Nic Mark’s “The Happiness Manifesto” which explains the theories and work of The Happy Planet Index. I’ve posted a link to the TED Video below for those that wish to view it:
So what grabbed my attention in the book?
The book begins by explaining how the ‘measures’ we currently use to measure a nations ‘success’ such as Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) are woefully inadequate when it comes to measuring our happiness and well-being and, that of the planet we occupy. It uses a wonderful quote from Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign to frame this:
Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task; it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction — purpose and dignity — that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion a year, but that Gross National Product … counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
We’re then presented with results of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which bills itself as a “leading global measure of sustainable well-being”. As the HPI websites says:
The HPI measures what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them. The Index uses global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint to calculate this.
The index is an efficiency measure, it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.
The 2012 HPI report ranks 151 countries and is the third time the index has been published.
The HPI website provides some excellent graphical representations of their findings which I won’t re-post them, but you can download the HPI Report here.
Five ways to personal well-being
Following a study completed in the UK, the author and his colleagues came up with five ways it believes lead to personal well-being. These are presented in summary below:
- Connect … With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
- Be active … Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness. Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and higher well-being across all age groups
- Take notice … Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savor the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
- Keep learning … Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favorite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.
- Give … Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.
You can view the full list here.
Ok, so most of these may not surprise you, but I wonder how many of you balancing your time between all of them, rather than focusing on just one or two. Yes….me to!
But the books focus is also very much on changing the way nations think about success, starting with the way they measure it. The HPI findings show that Costa Rica currently tops the Happy Planet Index with it’s residents having a long life expectancy, a high wellness rating and the country manages to operate in a sustainable way.
Seven strategies for national well-being
Having suggested how to be happy people, the author then presents a manifesto for governments to ensure we also have a happy planet through seven suggestions for strategies to nurture national well-being: including two for the economy, two for public services, and two for the places we live in. Marks says that “they should be seen as possible policies, not precise prescriptions. But taken seriously, they would transform public life.”
A summary of the list is as follows:
- Create good work … Create a well-being economy based on good work, good work in the right quantities. Unemployment has terrible effects on the well-being of the unemployed, and job insecurity affects everyone. Work can profoundly affect our well-being by providing us with purpose, challenge, and opportunities for social relationships; it is a meaningful part of our identity.
- Reform our financial systems … Put social and environmental value at the heart of the financial system. The global financial crash revealed the full extent of the dysfunctionality of finance.
- Develop flourishing schools … The purpose of the education system should be to create capable and emotionally well-rounded young people who are happy and motivated. At its heart, education policy must acknowledge that the best way of enabling people to realize their potential is to value them for who they are rather than their measuring their performance against exams and targets.
- Promote complete health … Health institutions need to broaden their focus to promote complete health, which is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
- Engage with citizens … Being actively engaged with communities has been shown not only to give us a personal sense of well-being but also to have a positive knock-on effect for others. This bolsters the case for government to support different sorts of community engagement, civil society organizations, and volunteering.
- Build good foundations … We need to adopt a radically different approach to how we plan, design and develop the built environment. The spaces we live in shape our lives for the better or the worse. We need to build neighborhoods that work for the people who live in them both now and in the future.
- Measure what matters … While it may not be entirely relevant to measure “the beauty of our poetry,” it is important that we start measuring what matters, as Robert Kennedy so eloquently put it, measuring everything “which makes life worthwhile.” Governments should directly and regularly measure and be accountable to their citizens’ subjective well-being: their experiences, feelings and perceptions of how their lives are going, as a new way of assessing societal progress. They should also measure the impact of our lifestyles on the environment we all share.
The full list can be read here
So What Next?
Alongside the latest report, they are launching launching the Happy Planet Charter.
They are calling on governments to adopt new measures of human progress that establish the goal of delivering sustainable well-being for all at the heart of our societal and economic decision making process.
And they are calling on the United Nations to develop an indicator that builds on the Happy Planet Index and measures progress towards the key goal for a better future: sustainable well-being for all.
If like me you like what The Happy Planet Index has to say about a Happy Planet with Happy People on it, you might like to spread the word too. Remember, you may only be like a single grain of sand on a beach, but until that first grain arrived there could never be a beach!
Here’s to a Happy Planet and Happy People!