Over the last 100 years, living standards in the West have improved enormously, but it appears that people have not become much happier. In 2006, the first ‘Happy Planet Index’ (HPI) measured happiness across 178 countries. The small south Pacific island of Vanuatu was the happiest nation. Germany ranked 81st, Japan 95th and the US 150th. The index was based on consumption levels, life expectancy and reported happiness. Although Vanuatu was top, it only ranked 207th out of 233 economies when measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Various surveys have indicated that while wealthy western nations use up vast quantities of the world’s scarce resources, many of their citizens are not much happier, or are indeed less happy, than those who belong to poorer countries that use far fewer resources.
Take Bhutan, for instance, which places emphasis on ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH). Although over 30 per cent of Bhutan’s people are in material poverty, GDP per capita is among the highest in South Asia and it has made tremendous strides in education and tackling malaria. The country recognises a need to modernise, but is attempting to do so within the framework of its Buddhist values. It acknowledges the importance of economic growth, but also encourages the promotion of culture and heritage and the preservation and sustainable use of the environment. GNH comprises nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, all of which can be quantifiably measured.
The 2009 version of the HPI placed Costa Rica at the top. Costa Rica also gained top spot in the WDH, which is based on respondents self reported happiness on a scale of one to 10. Costa Ricans scored 8.6. Denmark followed at 8.3 and Togo and Tanzania were last at 2.6.
Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces in 1949 and invested heavily in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society and boosted the economy. Rising education levels also nurtured impressive gender equality and improvements in health care, which means that life expectancy is now about the same as in the US. Education and health is a far better investment than military hardware for improving the quality of life and a general sense of happiness.