Not sure I entirely agree with the following article/study, but it poses interesting food for thought. The "Happy Planet Index" reveals the ecological efficiency that delivers human happiness [research report found here]. A nice and tidy breakdown of the research can be found here. The basic premise: the amorpheous concept of "happiness" has been mapped worldwide. Based on the research/mapping technique, colour codes are assigned to countries that rate their happiness-- appears as green. High correlation here between material "stuff" prosperity and being "happy" -- note many Western countries fitting this profile.
Right, so then the research goes on to explore life expectancy which correlates somewhat similarly to GDP. Similar picture emerges.
Then we move on to ecological destruction-- the process by which the local environment is destroyed to create material prosperity, and calculate each nation's footprint accordingly. Red is bad.
Western countries coming in with big big footprints. No surprise here. Then demographers smush all these three data sets (happiness + life expectancy/GDP + environmental footprint) to reveal how each country is really doing. In this case, green is good, red is bad:
The whole picture looks pretty bleak once you combine these factors. Can't say that outcome is particularly surprising.
What's worth further questioning is their underlying definition of happiness having such a strong correlation with materialism. People can be happy without stuff, and many would comment that travels in developing countries reveals people who are, perhaps sometimes surprisingly, very happy-- even if they have a minimum of material wealth. What they do have is community, family, cultural identity, traditions, etc.-- intangible things that we often forget can make us quite happy.
So, first off the bat, why define happiness for this study's sake in such close terms with material wealth?
Second, why is it that Western countries that have astounding rates of depression, anxiety, use of medications/substances to tackle those problems, suicides, etc. are seen as "more happy"?
Whether you're talking UK, US, Japan, or NZ-- each of these developed nations (and plenty of others) is gripped with many ills that are characteristic of a severely unhappy population.
While this study is interesting in what it proposes, a redefinition of happiness from step one might be in order to get a more accurate sense of what it actually means to be happy from a non-materialistic approach. It would also be interesting to weigh those socially negative pressures in Western countries in a more realistic and accurate way.
Still, ambitious project, interesting findings, and we'd like to see this tweaked and updated in the future.