What is the Happy Planet Index?

The Happy Planet Index is a measure of sustainable wellbeing, ranking countries by how efficiently they deliver long, happy lives using our limited environmental resources.

The Happy Planet Index helps to answer the question:

“Is it possible to live good lives without costing the Earth?”

Why do we need the Happy Planet Index?

The crises we face: persistent inequalities, accelerating climate breakdown, and rapid biodiversity loss are interconnected and stem from the same core problem: our economies are structured, governed, and measured to promote short-term economic growth over long-term collective wellbeing. Too often governments prioritise accelerated economic growth above all other concerns. They lose sight of what truly matters – long, happy, sustainable lives for people around the world.

Growth isn’t working

Our current economic system is driven by a ‘growth at all costs’ mentality, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). There is an entrenched belief that GDP growth is synonymous with increasing wellbeing and prosperity and is universally beneficial. 

In reality, GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It doesn’t take into account inequality, the things that really matter to people like social relations, health, or how they spend their free time, and crucially, the planetary limits we are up against.

Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth.

- Tim Jackson, Chasing Progress

There is much more to wellbeing than money.

Research suggests that in most reasonably developed countries, material circumstances such as wealth and possessions play only a small role in determining levels of wellbeing (some psychologists say it’s only 10 percent).

Of course, increased consumption (for example of healthy food, appropriate clothes, leisure activities) brings wellbeing up to a point, but beyond a certain point, having added income or consuming more does not lead to any more increases in wellbeing – this is what economists call diminishing returns”.

So what actually leads to more wellbeing?

In 2008, the team behind the Happy Planet Index (HPI) were commissioned by the UK Government Office of Science to identify the key drivers of personal wellbeing.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing (as they became known) are evidence-based positive actions that anyone can take to promote their own wellbeing. They have been used very widely in public mental health settings globally and the great thing about them is that none of them have to cost the earth.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing are:

  1. Connect
  2. Be Active
  3. Take Notice
  4. Keep Learning
  5. Give

You can reflect on how well you are doing with the Five Ways by taking our personal HPI test.

Rethinking economic “efficiency”: What are we aiming to efficiently deliver?

Because of its fixation with economic growth, conventional economics is very concerned with efficiency: how to maximise the number of outputs (income or products) produced by a given quantity of inputs (human and environmental resources).

Imagine if the purpose of the economy was not to produce more income or products, but to produce more and sustainable wellbeing. In that case, how would we measure “economic efficiency”?

Time trend graph

The Happy Planet Index measures what truly matters to us – our wellbeing in terms of long, happy, and meaningful lives – and what matters to the planet – our rate of resource consumption.

Rather than pursuing growth at all costs, even if it’s harmful to wellbeing or sustainability, what if we strived to create wellbeing and pursue sustainability, no matter the impact on growth? 

The Happy Planet Index provides a compass to guide nations towards genuine progress.

Over the last fourteen years, the Happy Planet Index has highlighted which countries are most successful at supporting long, happy lives with low ecological footprints – and puts forward a vision of how we can all do the same.

The challenge now is how we can turn this vision into meaningful action.

Share the Happy Planet Index

Use our promotion pack to start the conversation: “How can we live good lives that don’t cost the Earth?”

Happy Planet Index promotion pack

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