The Happiness Metric

Photo by Ismael Nieto
Photo by Ismael Nieto

Happiness. Isn’t it the most important thing one can achieve in life? What is a life without happiness? In 2012 the United Nations published the first World Happiness Report, which measures Happiness through GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perception of corruption. Recently the 2016 World Happiness Report was published, and Denmark was ranked as the most happy country in the world.

I am born and raised in Denmark. So I should have some kind of understanding of leading a happy life, if we shall have any trust in the statistics. In Denmark there is a high tax system which enables every citizen access to free healthcare, free education including university, and a social safety net in case of unemployment. In contrast to many other countries, you can’t buy an education, meaning the education system chooses their students based on merit and not from social class or income. This also enables social mobility and freedom of choice in life.

In terms of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, every person should ideally have this level of well-being. What seems to be the problem is that the economic and social wealth that currently exists in Denmark is based on roughly 200 years of economic growth, and Denmark’s ecological footprint is 5.5 global hectares (gha) per capita. This high ecological footprint in itself is an indicator that everyone simply can’t have this standard of living. How do we, as a global and interconnected society handle these kinds of paradoxical, complex and ethical issues?

The World Happiness Report is supposed to indicate development based on factors other than just GDP, but isn’t the economy still an underlying mechanism in many of the factors that are being measured? How can a poor country have social support, a good healthcare system, and long life expectancy without economic growth? I guess a very central question in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is: how we can ensure fairly, the well-being of everyone without killing our planet? Furthermore if happiness is measured by factors that implies economic growth, how can we make happiness compatible with environmental sustainability?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *