Happiest Countries – progressive ways of measuring quality of life

Three new studies of happiness and quality of life for citizens of the various countries reflect our changing world and increased understanding of which factors actually contribute to genuine human happiness.  These reports all reflect the growing awareness that quality of life and personal happiness are far more important than GNP, which used to be the measurement of “success” in the old paradigm.

Happily, progressive awareness permeate each of these reports as a new paradigm takes shape based upon more genuine factors of human happiness and satisfaction, such as quality of life and relationships.

Children of Bhutan

Back in 1972,  this kind of thinking was considered revolutionary when  Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan nation became something of a social science experiment by started to track and promote its Gross National Happiness (GNH).  This was done initially by decree of its former benevolent king, and has continued through the transformation into a democracy. The idea was to avoid the dehumanizing concept of Gross National Product, and instead embrace the humanist Buddhist humanist principles of Gross National Happiness.  Bhutan, is currently the only government in the world that  must, by law,  consider every policy for its impact not only on Gross Domestic Product, but also on GNH.

Today, Bhutan’s successful ideas are reflected not only in the way other countries measure happiness, but even  in the UN study of world happiness, which was chaired by Bhutan this year.

Many other countries are making strides in the same progressive direction.  The government of Costa Rica  has established a  Department of Justice and Peace, which follows a Directorate for the Promotion of Peace and the Peaceful Coexistence of Citizens.   Iceland has created a new government with the new bill of rights written completely online in a move lauded for its transparency and responsiveness to the citizenry. It is unsurprising then, that the people of Iceland are also rated highly in the happiness category.   All three of these are examples of countries whose governments are responsive to the people’s needs  which has been shown to be a strong factor in creating human happiness. 

And let’s also remember: happy adults raise happy children…completing the cycle of happiness into the next generations.

The following three  very different organizations have measured human happiness and well-being that take into account the fact that human happiness is based upon genuine humanist values, and are separate from the outdated and limited financial-based measurement systems.

Each of these reports have made note of the fact that the old finance-based paradigm was flawed and did not accurately reflect the genuine experience of personal satisfaction and happiness.

1.  The first and probably the most well-known, is the Forbes Happiest Countries Index.  Forbes, somewhat surprisingly,  uses some good general rules:  health, (and available health care) freedom from pain, opportunity to obtain education, freedom of speech, freedom of religion (or no religion), freedom to start a business, enough money to live comfortably,and safety and security in one’s own home.

Again this year, the happiest countries in Forbes study are socialist democracies – these are democratic countries with a strong safety net, providing free health care and education, and providing supplemental financial support so that the classes are much more equal  than in unhappier countries.

The happiest countries have strong environmental rules, too, so that their citizens have access to clean air, water, and food – and are not breathing in dangerous corporate chemical particulates, or drinking toxic compounds in their water.  Most happy countries have a ban on GMOs too, so that the citizens know what is in their own food and can make healthy choices.

These countries have a high tax rate, but with no bills for education or health insurance, and reduced bills for such things as utilities, this high tax rate actually translates into more disposable income — and the obvious result is a healthy, creative, well-educated and prosperous population.

The top Forbes happiest countries are:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands

2. The UN released its own World Happiness Report  in April 2012, which discusses at length the shortcomings of looking at monetary wealth alone as a measurement of happiness,  declaring that a strictly economic mode of thinking is outdated and ineffectualThe U.N. list contains some interesting variations and similarities to the Forbes list.  The report says:

“We increasingly understand that we need a new model of humanity…“Should the world pursue GNP to the point of environmental ruin, even when incremental gains in GNP are not increasing much (or at all) the happiness of affluent societies?”

The happiest countries according to the UN Study are:

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Netherlands
  • Canada
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • New Zealand
  • Austria
  • Ireland
  • USA
  • Costa Rica

Note that the top several countries again are socialist democracies, (until you reach the USA, which is in extreme flux right now, with about half the population moving into a more compassionate, sustainable, progressive model, and  the other half supporting a more aggressive greed-based, rigid plutocratic agenda.  Which side is able to formulate policy will determine whether the USA will remain as high on the list).

The measurements used reflect our growing understanding of what is truly important beyond the old markers of eternal growth and accumulating material possessions, contrasting these with “family and friends, good health, material sufficiency, freedom, and the pleasure of living in a justifiably trusting community and nation,” said John Helliwell, a co-editor of the report and an expert on the economics of happiness at the University of British Columbia, who leads the CIFAR program “Altruism is central to the discussions here,” Prof. Helliwell said, “since it not only makes people happy when they demonstrate it, but because concern for others far away, and not yet born, must underlie any progress towards sustainable [in environmental, social and political terms] happiness.” – National Post 

3. Recently, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has released its latest Happy Planet Index (HPI), which also ranks the happiest countries in the world taking into consideration environmental factors that affect the actual living quality of the citizenry of each country.  The emphasis upon these additional considerations change the list considerably from the two above models, bringing some surprising countries into the top happiest list.

The New Economics Foundation wisely notes  that “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.”  In the NEF report  three component measurements are used: life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint.

Topping the NEF list?  Costa Rica.  The highest placed European nation is the Netherlands.  The UK rates 74th and the US rates 114 out of 143 countries.

The report sets out a “Happy Planet Charter” calling for an unprecedented collective global effort to develop a “new narrative” of human progress, encourage good lives that don’t cost the earth, and to reduce consumption in the highest-consuming nations – which it says is the biggest barrier to sustainable wellbeing. – The Guardian, UK

The top countries in the NEF List of happiest countries are:

  • Costa Rica

    Vietnamese boys play in the surf

  • Vietnam
  • Colombia    
  • Belize    
  • El Salvador    
  • Jamaica
  • Panama    
  • Nicaragua    
  • Venezuela    
  • Guatemala    
  • Bangladesh    
  • Cuba

The Happy Planet Index measures quality of life with several factors says New Economics Foundation researcher Saamah Abdallah. It measures resource use and the actual positive outcomes –  “which are happy and healthy lives for us all. In this way, it reminds us that the economy is there for a purpose—and that is to improve our lives.”

Abdallah calls the importance of family, friends, and community “social capital.” People who live in countries with higher levels of material wealth often report less happiness than people in countries with less wealth but stronger social networks. According to the HPI, a Costa Rican has an ecological footprint one-fourth that of the average person in the United States. – Yes Magazine

Seeing progressive, environmental, peace-enhancing ideals going mainstream is cause for celebration!

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