Nic Marks: The Happy Planet Index
“GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” — Robert F. Kennedy
Nic Marks thinks quality of life is measurable, and that true contentment comes not from the accumulation of material wealth but from our connections with others, engagement with the world, and a sense of autonomy. This isn’t just theory: a pioneer in the field of well-being research, Marks creates statistical methods to measure happiness, analyzing and interpreting the evidence so that it can be applied to such policy fields as education, sustainable development, healthcare, and economics.
The founder of the Centre for Well-Being, an independent think tank at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in London, Marks is particularly keen to promote a balance between sustainable development and quality of life. To investigate this, he devised the Happy Planet Index, a global index of human well-being and environmental impact. The results made headlines: People in the world’s wealthiest countries, who consume the most of the planet’s resources, don’t come out on top in terms of well-being. Which raises the question: What purpose does unfettered economic growth serve?
Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy?
Well, it turns out the pre-frontal cortex does lots of things, but one of the most important things it does is it is an experience simulator. Flight pilots practice in flight simulators so that they don’t make real mistakes in planes. Human beings have this marvelous adaptation that they can actually have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life. This is a trick that none of our ancestors could do, and that no other animal can do quite like we can. It’s a marvelous adaptation. It’s up there with opposable thumbs and standing upright and language as one of the things that got our species out of the trees and into the shopping mall.
Now — (Laughter) — all of you have done this. I mean, you know, Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t have liver-and-onion ice cream, and it’s not because they whipped some up, tried it and went, “Yuck.” It’s because, without leaving your armchair, you can simulate that flavor and say “yuck” before you make it.
Impact bias. “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.” (Dan Gilbert)
Matthieu Ricard on the habits of happiness