The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is the leading global measure of sustainable well-being.

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 index uses global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint.

Each of these components is based on a separate measure:

Experienced well-being.
If you want to know how well someone’s life is going, your best bet is to ask them directly. In this year’s HPI, experienced well-being is assessed using a question called the ‘Ladder of Life’ from the Gallup World Poll. This asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they feel they currently stand on.

Life expectancy.
Alongside experienced well-being, the HPI includes a universally important measure of health – life expectancy. We used life expectancy data from the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report

Ecological Footprint.
The HPI uses the Ecological Footprint promoted by the environmental charity WWF as a measure of resource consumption. It is a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns, measured in terms of global hectares (g ha) which represent a hectare of land with average productive biocapacity.

See Appendix 1 in our report for a full methodology.

Most measures of national progress are actually just measures of economic activity; how much we are producing or consuming. By only using indicators like GDP to measure success we are not accounting for what really matters, producing happy lives people now and in the future.

The HPI puts current and future well-being at the heart of measurement. It frames the development of each country in the context of real environmental limits. In doing so it tells us what we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth.

It shows that while the challenges faced by rich resource-intensive nations and those with high levels of poverty and deprivation may be very different, the end goal is the same: to produce happy, healthy lives now and in the future. The HPI demonstrates that the dominant Western model of development is not sustainable and we need to find other development paths towards sustainable well-being.

On a scale of 0 to 100 for the HPI, we have a target for nations to aspire to by 2050 of 89. This is based on attainable levels of life expectancy and well-being and a reasonably-sized Ecological Footprint.

The new results confirm that we are still not living on a happy planet. No country is able to combine success across the three goals of high life expectancy, high experienced well-being and living within environmental limits.

Whilst many high-income countries score low because of their large Ecological Footprints, the lowest income countries in sub-Saharan Africa tend to rank even lower because of low life expectancy and low well-being.

High and medium development Latin American countries score highest in delivering fairly long and happy lives with a relatively low Ecological Footprint.

You can explore the data here.

The Happy Planet Index was created by Nic Marks, Founder of the Centre for Well-being at nef (the new economics foundation), and first published in July 2006.

Its message resonated with hundreds of thousands of people around the world – within two days of its launch, the report was downloaded and read in 185 countries worldwide.

In June 2009 the second edition, HPI 2.0, was published.

In July 2010 Nic gave a talk at the prestigious and influential TEDGlobal conference about the HPI.

The HPI is a clear and meaningful barometer of how well a nation is doing. This is its key value. But although the HPI measures a lot, it does not measure everything.

Countries that do well on the HPI suffer many problems and many high-ranking countries are tainted by important human rights issues. And though one would expect the infringement of rights to negatively impact on the well-being of some people in the country, the HPI does not set out to directly measure those rights.  Furthermore, because it is likely that people directly affected by extreme human rights abuses represent a minority, the population average well-being score may not fully reflect this harm.

Because of this, we do not recommend that the HPI be the only thing that countries measure. Blind pursuit of a single objective, whilst disregarding the means to achieving it, is dangerous. nef has developed a measurement framework of which HPI is a component alongside other measures such as economic performance and environmental pressure.

Alongside the latest report, nef is launching the Happy Planet Charter.

We 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 we 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.