Analyzing GPI as an Alternative for the Happiness Index

Author: Rishi Bajaj
Mentor: Dr. Beryl Chang
West Windsor Plainsboro High School South


This research paper analyzes GPI, Genuine Progress Indicator, as an alternative to the current formula used in the calculation of happiness by the World Population Review. The main problem with the current formula used is that “GDP per capita” is one of the six factors used in the calculation of happiness. Although financial stability is correlated to happiness to some extent, this formula is very income biased, as it fails to take many other aspects of happiness into consideration. Since a far majority of people in the United States state that their family’s well being is the most significant factor in their happiness, it proves why the World Population Review’s index should include many more factors like personal wellbeing or well being of a loved one. Furthermore, the current happiness index fails to take other factors into consideration like environmental pollution and high crime rates. Since both of these conflicts were nationally proven to severely impact one’s happiness, they should be included in any metric that attempts to calculate happiness. The GPI is not a perfect measure either by any means, however by taking 26 total factors into account, split up into three categories, they are able to measure happiness with less bias than the World Population Review.

Analyzing GPI as an alternative for the Happiness Index

Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Denmark, and Finland, according to the World Population Review, these are the five happiest countries in the world(in descending order)(Happiest Countries in the World 2023, 2023). But how is happiness, something that is purely individual, measured on a large scale. The W.P.R claims that they take six factors into account: Gross Domestic Product per capita, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption. The fact that only two of these metrics can even be quantified is quite concerning, as the index claims to take all factors into account equally. One concerning part of this index however, is that GDP per capita is taken into account. According to Investopedia, GDP per capita is an economic metric that breaks down a country’s economic output per person.While our modern day society has indeed placed a significant emphasis on money and its correlation to happiness, for the vast majority of people money alone would not make them feel content. In fact in a survey conducted in 2017 by the Pew Research Center, it was found that 69% of United States citizens felt that “family” was what made life meaningful. While 23% of those surveyed did believe that “Finances and Money” was what made life meaningful, the cost of living in the United States must also be taken into consideration(Silver, Kessel, Huang, Clancy & Gubbala, 2021, pg. 1). World Population Review states that the United States is actually the 10th most expensive place to live in the world, and given that the nine other countries on this list have significantly lower populations, it would not be bold of someone to assume that significantly more people value “Finances and Money” in the United States because of the high cost of living(Most Expensive Countries to Live in 2023, 2023).

Another flaw of this metric is that religion, which billions around the world deeply value, is not included in the measurement of happiness. Many religious texts such as the Bible, Quran, and Bhagavad Gita encourage followers to place value in God and family before material possessions. Because of this, billions of people that live in developing yet religious countries could be labeled as falsely unhappy simply because they value different aspects of life than many of us Western society folks. Furthermore, religion provides one with the belief that after death they will be reunited with their loved ones in an all spiritual place, which provides a sense of contentment and joy.

With the flaws of calculating happiness using the W.P.R’s index, an alternative metric must also be assessed. GPI, or Genuine Progress Indicator “is a metric designed to take fuller account of the well-being of a nation” as stated by the Gross National Happiness Association(Genuine Progress Indicator, 2021). While the GPI does take economic factors into account, it also consists of 19 other factors which allow for an unbiased assessment of happiness. For example, while GDP per capita calculates only the economic output of a person to determine their wellbeing, GPI takes into account factors such as personal expenditure and durable goods. With metrics such as these that provide a window into one’s life, happiness no longer is calculated on a sole income base. Adding on, many environmental factors are also taken into consideration with GPI.

Factors such as air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution and climate change can severely affect the quality of one’s life, so it puts into perspective how many metrics the W.P.R has failed to consider. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a study in China was conducted, in which the negative impact of air pollution on happiness was depicted(Tian, Zhang, & Zu, 2022). By utilizing annual air pollution data on a national level, Xuan Tian, Cheng Zhang, and Bing Xu verified that there is indeed a negative correlation between air pollution and happiness.

Another noticeable missing metric on the W.P.R’s index is crime. Although quite obvious in a sense, G.S Bajpai S and Preetika Sharma’s “Happiness and Criminal Victimization: A Study of Relationship and Restoration” concludes that “people living in nations with high crime rates were less happy and satisfied than individuals living in nations with comparatively lower crime rates”(Bajpai & Sharma, 2021). Due to the constant state of stress and anxiety for people living in crime riddled neighborhoods, not only does their happiness decrease but also their quality of life. Because of the fear they carry, they are unable to do many things that the average citizen in a suburban area can do: go on a walk outside, take your child to the park, etc. Since high crime rates can negatively impact many aspects of an individual’s life, including the things they value, like family time, it should be incorporated into W.P.R’s index like it is for GPI.

On top of air pollution and crime not being included on the W.P.R’s index, another factor that should also be taken into account because of its correlation with happiness is leisure time. As indicated by R.W Robertson in his paper “The Relationships between leisure and Happiness”, pleasurable experiences were found to increase levels of serotonin(Liu & Da, 2019). According to the Cleveland Clinic, a natural increase in serotonin levels can cause you to feel emotionally stable, calm and happy while low levels of serotonin are highly associated with depression(What is Serotonin?, 2022).

Because factors such as air pollution, crime, and leisure time have clear correlations with happiness and can be quantified, they seem to be more effective alternatives in comparison to the metrics of “corruption” and “freedom”. Not only are these concepts difficult to quantify, but the true level of them may never be accurate. Take freedom for example, prior to Edward Snowden whistleblowing in 2013, the majority of United States citizens believed that the right to privacy as stated in the fourth amendment was truly instilled. However, once Snowden, who worked with the NSA, leaked many confidential resources of the government, including spying through cameras of different technology, the true level of privacy in our country became apparent. Yes, the government may have used this tool for solely positive purposes, however the ethics regarding this major invasion of the fourth amendment is something that must not be overlooked. Adding on, corruption is another factor, much similar to freedom, in which the true extent of which is not known. Most citizens understand that there is corruption present to some degree in the United States, however the true level will never be known. It could be on a local level, regional level, national level or maybe even higher, so to take “corruption” into consideration when the true amount of it isn’t even known, makes no logical sense.

Now that many of the positives of GPI have been taken into consideration, we must also look at the flaws in order to conduct a fair comparison. Religion for example, as discussed earlier, does not have a spot on the genuine progress indicator despite the fact that religion has been credited with higher levels of happiness and engagement within one’s community.

The health of an individual is also a significant missing factor in GPI’s measurement of happiness. While W.P.R’s index includes life expectancy which is still related to the health of an individual, this is a far better alternative than not incorporating health at all like GPI does. If one’s health is deteriorating, they will not be able to enjoy the things they value, be it family time or even leisure time. Or another possibility, if the health of someone you value extremely is deteriorating, you will simply not be able to function without that thought, acting as a parasite infecting your mind. Constantly wondering about an individual’s well-being is not only mentally taxing but also exhausting, so to not include health as a factor in the calculation of happiness is an outright mistake.

While it is evident that both metrics of happiness, from W.P.R’s index to the GPI have significant flaws in their measurement, utilizing certain factors of both would pave the path for an effective measurement of happiness. While W.P.R’s main flaw comes with including factors such as “freedom” and “corruption” in which the true extent of both factors is not outrightly public, GPI’s main flaw comes with not taking the health of an individual into consideration. A metric in which a plethora of factors including social, environmental, economic, and health are taken into account will yield the most unbiased yet relevant results in the calculation of happiness.


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About the author

Rishi Balaj

Rishi is currently a senior at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South. He is the captain of his school’s varsity baseball team and has been playing varsity baseball since freshman year of high school. On top of playing and watching baseball, he is also the founder of “Investing With A Purpose”, a club that participates in impact investing competitions and sustainable entrepreneurship competitions. Recently, the club placed top 0.05% in the Wharton Investment competition. Rishi has also been writing articles on social finance, impact investing, and sustainability for around three years, on his website “Bohemian Business”.