Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

TED Global 2010: Nic Marks and Happiness that Doesn’t Cost the Earth
Ethan Zuckerman, 16 Jul 10

Nic Marks founded the Center for Well-Being, a consultancy that tries to expand definitions of social and governmental progress to include broader quantitative and qualitative measures of well-being.

Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a nightmare.” Marks’s dream, he tells us, is that we’ll focus less on the nightmare and more on the dream. Modern film making is almost always about catastrophe – he references The Road, a bleak, post-apocalyptic film.

The environmental movement has gotten very good at using fear. But fear leads to a flight reaction, and scares people away. We need a better way to get people to engage.

When we think about positive visions of the future, we have a tendency to keep score in economic terms. But this is a vision based around greed. We’ve got enough, at least in developed societies. Our accounting systems track what we produce, but they don’t track what’s really important.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy began his ill-fated presidential campaign with a talk that closed with the phrase, “The Gross National Product measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” If RFK were alive now, Marks believes, he’d be asking economists to design measures that are broader, fairer and more indicative about what people really want and value. People think money is important, but that it’s not nearly as important as happiness, health and love.

Marks has spent his adult life figuring out how we measure happiness. He’s created the Happy Planet Index (I’ve written about the index here) to measure these factors. The goal is to measure how much well-being we get from the use of planetary resources – it’s an efficiency index.

He shows a graph that measures resource use and happiness – the top right shows some very happy countries that use a whole lot of resources – the US, Western Europe, some gulf states. The bottom left uses very few resources and is deeply unhappy. But there are a few nations – mostly Latin American – that are very happy and use few resources. Costa Rica leads the graph, with a life expectancy higher than that of the US, and has – according to the Gallup poll – the happiest people in the world. And they do this with a quarter of the resources used in the western world.

What’s Costa Rica doing right? The government has committed to carbon neutrality by 2021. 99% of their electricity comes from renewable sources. They abolished their army and put resources towards education and health. “And they’ve got that Latin vibe, don’t they?”

There’s no guarantee that the US is the future. It might be Latin America. We need to pull countries from the bottom (poor and unhappy) and right (rich and environmentally wasteful) towards Costa Rica.

We’re becoming less efficient in turning natural resources into the desired outcome – happiness. We’d all like to get to 2050 without some sort of apocalypse happening. There’s an incredible challenge – we need to massively cut down our carbon emissions while figuring out how to raise national well-being and happiness.

To do this, we need to create feedback loops. Human beings are deeply motivated by the now – put a smart meter on your house, and you (and your kids) will get very good about turning off the lights. Why do we hear the stock market close on the news every day and not our energy usage – we need to monitor the targets we want to reach. We need both positive and negative feedback, and reminders of what we should be doing to be happier and healthier.

What are the five things you should do every day to be happier? Marks and his colleagues did a study for the UK government to try to determine this. The first “secret to happiness” is connection to other people. Second, be active – go for a walk or turn on the radio and dance. Third, take notice of what’s around you – the seasons changing, the world around you. Fourth, keep learning – lifetime learning has a strong link to health in the elderly. This doesn’t need to be formal learning – it can be cooking a new dish or playing an instrument. Finally, give – we feel good when we give. Give two groups $100 – the people who spend money on others, rather than on themselves, feel much better at the end of the day.

These actions don’t need a lot of material goods to succeed. Happiness does not cost the earth.

Marks closes by quoting King again: “I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the promised land.” Environmentalists and the business community need to go to the mountaintop and see a vision of the world we all want. We need a great transition to get there, and we need signposts, something like the Happy Planet index which leads us to happiness with doesn’t cost the earth.

This post originally appeared on Ethan's excellent blog My Heart's in Accra.

Bookmark and Share


Mark's first secret to happiness calls my attention...our happiness depends on our sharing with others. We cannot find happiness living in a selfish world. This is linked to the last key which is giving. does makes us feel so good. And it doesn´t have to be costly. How strange that those who have found the truth in these secrets are usually those who have less. So, happiness is not in what you have and how much you have.

Posted by: Rebeca Herrera on 17 Jul 10

Its great to see that more people think that connecting people is the key to building a brigther future!
Check out the Blue Ball of Connection here &Samhoud is a consultant with a vision to build a brighter future! And he is doing a great job at that being the Great Place to work number one in EUROPE!

Posted by: Hans Lak on 19 Jul 10

Well,that's a really great article. It really inspire the readers and I'm reading your article. Keep it up!

Posted by: Kent Ryan on 19 Jul 10

This is one of the most unforgettable article I have ever read. I will always keep and remember it.

Posted by: Learn to Ski on 21 Sep 10

Post A Comment

Please note that comments will remain open for only 14 days after the article is posted. While previous comments will remain visible, attempts to post new comments after this period will fail. This helps stop comment spam, so your forebearance is appreciated.

The Worldchanging comments are meant to be used for further exploration and evaluation of the ideas covered in our posts. Please note that, while constructive disagreement is fine, insults and abuse are not, and will result in the comment being deleted and a likely ban from commenting. We will also delete at will and without warning comments we believe are designed to disrupt a conversation rather than contribute to it. In short, we'll kill troll posts.

Finally, please note that comments which simply repost copyrighted works or commercial messages will be summarily deleted.

Yes No







MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg