The GDP is an index for ranking countries by their overall economic output. As we all know, economics is important, but it is not all that counts. In particular, the GDP does not take into account the population utility, which is much more important than the GDP. The HPI, Happy Planet Index, is an index that “is based on general utilitarian principles — that most people want to live long and fulfilling lives, and the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, whilst avoiding infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same.” So the HPI is one possible index that measures some aspects of our life which are not material. One can object to how it does it or to the principles that underlies it, but certainly it is a good step towards better life.

To find the HPI of a country, a random sample of its population is interviewed, the answers are then analyzed, and the index of the country is found. In 2009, various countries in Latin America were ranked on top, European countries were ranked in places 50-60, Japan was ranked 75 and the US was ranked 114. Zimbabwe closed the list of 143 countries.

In fact, one can calculate his or her own HPI at the site I did it, and found that my HPI is 59.9; if I were a country, I would have ranked 13 in the world, between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Apparently one cannot run away from one’s neighbors. If I did not forget my hour and a half taiji class, I may even come before Egypt, who knows.

As usual with surveys, this survey draws conclusions from scant data. For example, my life expectancy is 92.2 years. Not 92.1 and not 92.3. Given the unstable political situation in the middle east I would be far more conservative, but apparently the HPI knows more than I do. My “ecological footprint is 5.23 global hectares, or 2.91 planets. [I am] using between two and three times [my] share of the planet’s resources.” Very nice given that I was only asked about my spending on electronic equipment in the last 12 months (more than 500 pounds), about my home (apartment), my car (less than 20 miles to work) and my diet (mixed diet of fruit, veg & pulses, with meat no more than twice a week).

Yet the thing that surprised me most is a short sentence in the feedback that I got after completing the survey: “research shows that when people are commuting they are less happy than any other time of the day, including when they are at work.” Is that true? I like my commuting moments: between 20 and 30 minutes from home to the university and back. When I was young I used to think of research problems while traveling to/from university; then I used to listen to audio stories; then I used to talk with my grandmother, until she passed away; and now I talk with my mother and think again on mathematical problems. I guess that if we want to increase the HPI of the population, we need to develop a program that would teach commuters how to use their time during rush hour; quite easily the US can climb higher in the HPI ranking, maybe even pass the Palestinian Authority (56) or Haiti (42).