Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A happy planet independent of material resources

The map above shows a ratio of the happiness of countries to their ecological footprint, with greener countries ranking better. It was developed by Nic Marks, a statitician who makes a relevant notion in his recent TED lecture: that maybe it is not so meaningful to optimize the happiness of a country, but we rather need to optimize the amount of resources we use per 'unit' of happiness. In other words, we need to find ways to develop a happiness that is independent of material things that bring happiness.

His research introduces the 'Happy Planet Index', a number that shows the ratio of happiness to the ecological footprint of a country. From this research we learn facts such as that Western countries reach a relatively high rate of happiness, though it is at the cause of a high ecological footprint. Sub-Saharan Africa is not doing that well, but then again, they're not using a lot of resources. South Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia are doing a little bit better, but the striking notion is that Latin America is doing the best in being happy with the least amount of planet used. At the sole summit is the magnificent Republic of Costa Rica.

Now you'll want some facts about Costa Rica:

- It's small, about the size of West Virginia, and has about 4.6 million inhabitants
- The national motto is: "Long live work and peace"
- The Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021
- They have no army, since 1949
- There's lots of water, islands, banana plantations, jungle, and gorgeous beaches with a tropical climate
- It contains 5% of the world's biodiversity
- It's a constitutional democracy with a pretty successful universal healthcare system
- They like to play the marimba and dance the merengue
- "Often, people walking down the streets, or buying food at shops say hello by saying "Pura Vida" which means pure life, or good life. It can be phrased as a question or as an acknowledgement of one's presence. A recommended response to "How are you?" would be "Pura Vida"."

The United Arab Emirates has the highest ecological footprint, 9.5 global hectares per capita (gha), of the world. This is about twice the consumption of most Western European countries. And it means that more than four planet earths would be required to sustain this way of living. The USA is a close second with 9.4 gha. Other major world-misusers are Kuwait (8.9 gha), Denmark (8 gha), Australia (7.8 gha), New Zealand (7.7 gha), Iceland (7.4 gha), Canada (7.1 gha) and Norway (6.9 gha). So the life satisfaction of the English-speaking nations and the Nordic countries comes at a cost. Costa Rica has the highest life satisfaction of the world (8.5 out of 10) with a footprint of only 2.3 gha and a good life expectancy too: 78.5 years. It is the prime example of how to develop happiness independent of material resources.

Based on this, mr. Marks suggests five strategies to follow in your life:

1. Connect, develop social networks
2. Be physically active
3. Take notice of what is around you
4. Keep learning
5. Give

I would humbly suggest to add one. It's the first word of this blog. Create. Simply making stuff, and using your mind to imagine future creations, is a phenomenally empowering capacity once you start developing it. It takes you out of the social mode and gives you purpose, as long as you have the courage to awaken it. You will see that you get a greater appreciation for things, too, once you see how they all had to be created. Creativity roots you into the world with both your mind and your body, and I think that once humanity collectively awakens its innate creative powers, perfect happiness can be reached.

And in case you have a spare quarter hour, you could watch Nic Marks' TED lecture here:

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