Many thanks to my buddy Sam, who passed on the article below, which his buddy Carl Bialik wrote for the Wall Street Journal. I’m posting it here, as it clarifies some of the methodology used to determine the scores in the “Happiness Index” (subject of my previous post). I’m throwing it on here for two main reasons:
1) It is always good to be transparent and thorough. When I posted the previous piece, I knew that the creators of this index must have made some heavy assumptions, and this article outlines them.
2) It made me realize I wasn’t really explicit enough on my last post about why this index is interesting enough to highlight – it’s not because I think we’d be happier if our economy “small scale agriculture and tourism.” The main point is only that it highlights the fact that we currently measure success in the most absurd way – GDP growth. I think the objective of this index was not to find out who are the happiest people on earth, but to demonstrate that the formula for determining GDP/GNP is grossly simplistic and pursuing its growth results in perverse and dangerous side-effects. I also don’t think this index is the answer (neither is the GPI or the ISEW), but they are all important strategic step in starting to re-conceptualize our measures of success – to suspend our beliefs about our current model and honestly evaluate it.
Another important point that the piece below touches on, is that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to know how “happy” people are (we’re not talking about moods here, but the Aristotelian concept of living well). Again, I think we’re in need of an important re-conceptualization, and it’s helpful to look at this through the lens of Max-Neef’s basic human needs, and differentiating between needs and satisfiers of those needs. Still, to what extent ones needs are met is an inherently subjective question, and measuring one’s ability to meet ones needs is also very tricky. This is, in part, why it is often difficult to identify and eliminate violations of the 4th sustainability principle (including things like paying developing country laborers low wages, instead of no wages) – but at least it gives us a place to start evaluating these questions in reality and not following theoretical models to our own demise. Difficulty is no excuse not to try. Stay going…
Putting a Number on Happiness
July 20, 2006
The 200,000 people of
"For the sake of Gross Global Happiness, I have resigned," Stuart Jeffries wrote1 in the Guardian, noting that his home in the
The problem is, no one has asked Vanuatuans how happy they are. The ranking was based on extrapolating happiness levels from other countries.
The group relied on outside sources for the individual statistics, before applying its own calculations. For instance, the satisfaction scores came from a range of surveys conducted around the globe, most notably the World Values Survey7, an international research network which has surveyed people in over 80 countries. The environmental impact numbers originate primarily with an
In the case of the World Values Survey, there were no data available for
To fill in that gap, New Economics extrapolated
So following that questionable adjustment, New Economics arrived at this winning formula for
The rankings would have differed greatly had the group sought merely to determine which nations are happiest, rather than coming up with a happiness "efficiency" score that took into account resource consumption. Nic Marks, who devised the report for New Economics, emailed me a spreadsheet that left the resource factor out, and looked only at life expectancy and satisfaction. Suddenly, life looked a lot better in the
We will soon know much more about world happiness: "The best survey is yet to come," said Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the
Among the smaller spots
"To try to say, who are the happiest people on the planet, boy, you have to be careful -- under what circumstances, what does happiness mean, and all of those things," Dr. Muller said. "But what you can do is say, how does self-reported happiness change over time?"