This is a guest post from Nic Marks, founder of the New Economics Foundation’s Centre for Well-being.

nef - economics as if people and the planet matteredA growing number of governments, politicians and ordinary people around the world agree that we need new measures of progress. They recognise that indicators of economic activity simply don’t tell us enough about societies’ goals of enabling good lives for their citizens. That is why April saw the UN host a High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-being, and why next week’s Rio+20 international sustainability conference includes negotiations on indicators that go ‘beyond GDP’.

It is also why we at nef (the new economics foundation) created the Happy Planet Index. The HPI measures what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them. The 2012 HPI report (PDF), published this week ranks 151 countries based on their efficiency – the extent to which each nation produces long and happy lives per unit of environmental input.

The results – explorable in detail at – show that we are still not living on a happy planet. No country has good performance on all three indicators of life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint. But some countries do considerably better than others – and those that do best are not who you might expect. None of the top ten countries ranked by overall HPI score are among the world’s richest – in fact amongst the top 40 countries by overall HPI score, only four countries have a GDP per capita of over $15,000. The highest ranking Western European nation is Norway in 29th place, just behind New Zealand in 28th. Costa Rica tops the HPI table with a substantial lead – due to its very high life expectancy which is 2nd highest in the Americas, and higher than the USA, experienced well-being higher than many richer nations and a per capita Footprint one third the size of the USA’s.

The HPI results provide evidence for something we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth, and that it is possible to live both happily and sustainably. They show 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.