Success vs a Happy Planet

Two blogs I follow recently posted links to two very different “maps” of the world.

The first the “best countries” to live in according to Newsweek. This rated countries according to: education, health, quality of life, economic dynamism and political environment. There’s an emphasis on factors which lead to personal success, and a “well run” country. Check out the really neat interactive feature which allows you to quickly see why certain countries are ranked as they are.

Newsweek: The World's Best Countries

The second was the Happy Planet Index map which looked at the criteria of: life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological footprint.  The index goes from good (dark green, light green) through average (yellow, light, orange) to bad (red). This was definitely a more ecological perspective, with the ecological footprint dragging down some countries, most notably the USA, to the “blood red footprint” level.

The Happy Planet Index

Not surprisingly most African countries fared “badly” on both indices. Although they did get high marks for their ecological footprint! Good for the environment, bad for the people.

Obviously, both these indices are an attempt to simplify very complex situations, but they definitely highlight where the problems are. And perhaps where governments should concentrate their research, aid and development programmes. Hopefully, however, this just confirms what they already know . . .


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Categories: Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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2 Comments on “Success vs a Happy Planet”

  1. GeoRoMancer
    September 7, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    The trouble with rankings … how does that saying go? “Never trust a statistic you haven’t ‘conditioned’ yourself!”

    So, with the HPI, if you’re a whinging, rich consumer country (USA) you get 2 bad scores, which relegates you to “red” status. And if you’re largely agricultural, yet fairly healthy and happy (anyone for more chili?), you get green status (Central America). What would all the Mexicans trying to cross the border say?
    In my opinion, the HPI is so ‘over-simplifying a complex situation’ as to be absolutely useless.

    Unfortunately, the Newsweak link seems to be available to subscribers only, so I couldn’t test-drive it. Looks more “continuous” (= sensible?), though.

    In general, however, these rankings suffer from the “average of a lot of opinions” syndrome. You get happy and unhappy people in all countries. How do you really get a nation’s pulse? I’m reminded of the old story “Beware of taking averages too seriously: put your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer, and your tummy may be at a comfortable average temperature but the rest of you won’t be happy!”

    • September 7, 2010 at 10:25 am #

      I was also wondering why Mexico, most of Central America and Colombia got the “best” scores on the HPI!

      You should be able to access the Newsweek link – it is open to all. Maybe you have a script blocker or something preventing it from loading?

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