How to measure happiness?

Expats are used to seeing regular lists of the happiest places in the world to live, surveys which tend to use income levels, health, safety and housing as some of the regular criteria for comparison.
But the latest ‘Happy Planet Index‘ from the New Economic Foundation takes an interestingly different approach, looking instead at how countries produce long, happy and sustainable lives for the people who live there. The study takes in account the factors of life expectancy, experienced well-being and ecological footprint. In a nutshell, it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.
Over the years, happiness surveys from numerous sources have consistently featured many northern European countries in their Top Ten of happy countries. Scandinavian countries tend to feature especially strongly, and of course there are regular appearances from other countries around the globe – countries popular with British expats, such as Australia, Canada and the USA, often feature. For example, Australia regularly takes the top slot in the Better Life Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), thanks to the overall strength of its economy.
Spot the trend; all are developed nations, with a high standard of living, economic and political stability, good healthcare and long life expectancy. So the Happy Planet Index, using as it does some very different benchmarks, throws up some surprises. In first place is Costa Rica, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. In fact, nine of the top ten places are taken by Latin American countries, while the UK manages to scrape in at number 41 – between Moldova and Morocco.
The new Happy Planet Index is a controversial measurement, and has attracted a lot of criticism as it gives a heavy weighting to ecological factors, while omitting to take human rights issues and internal inequality measures into account. But while it’s a long way from challenging the accepted methods of measuring a country’s happiness, the survey does ask some interesting questions. Is it time we looked at how nations cope not just with conventional economic challenges, but considered a wider range of factors?
Several years ago, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan stopped worrying about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and switched instead to using Gross National Happiness as a measure of good governance. Is it such an outlandish idea? We all dream of a long life of happiness and wellbeing within a sustainable environment – and long and happy lives shouldn’t have to cost the earth.
The full HPI top ten looks like this:

  • Costa Rica
  • Vietnam
  • Colombia
  • Belize
  • El Salvador
  • Jamaica
  • Panama
  • Nicaragua
  • Venezuela
  • Guatemala

In contrast, the latest United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network World Happiness Report (2013) gives the following rankings to happy countries around the globe:

  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Australia

If you are considering a move to any of these destinations, Cadogan Tate will assist you every step of the way – from your first enquiry to unpacking at your new home, we are here to help and advise you. For more details about Cadogan Tate’s specialist international removals services from London, click here.
Information correct at time of publication.