Nic Marks is one of the world’s leading thinkers, writers and doers on happiness and wellbeing, having co-created the Happy Planet Index, Five Ways to Wellbeing and Happiness Works. He’s also an inspiring speaker and has given a series of popular TED talks.

Here at the Network of Wellbeing (NOW) we have co-hosted talks with him on a few occasions, and the below shares some highlights of what we’ve learned from Nics’ important work.

Wellbeing as a common purpose

Nic notes: “Much of modern life is based upon a false logic, a logic that assumes that happiness and wellbeing come from financial prosperity. Thus most politicians – and most of our mainstream media – appear to assume that the main goal of government is…the pursuit of economic growth.

“There are two main reasons why this assumption is wrong. First, once basic material needs have been met, there is very little evidence that pursuing financial prosperity generates much extra happiness for individuals or for nations. Second, by blindly pursuing economic growth, we are creating a whole set of social and environmental issues that will undermine the potential happiness and wellbeing of future generations.

“It is time for us to imagine a different future; a future where nations and people can again share a common purpose.”

Happy Planet Index

One way Nic has helped to create this common purpose is through the Happy Planet Index (HPI), the first global index of sustainable wellbeing. Nic explains that it, “measures the ecological efficiency of delivering wellbeing. It shows that good lives do not have to cost the Earth.”

Whilst the HPI is a great step forward by introducing wellbeing targets beyond just using GDP, Nic recognises that it, “does not measure everything. Many of the high ranking countries are tainted by human rights issues and rising inequalities. It also does not directly account for other important environmental issues such as soil erosion, deforestation or species loss.”

Nonetheless, HPI still serves a very important purpose, as Nic highlights: “What the HPI does well is to suggest the need for a change of direction for most nations.”

The social benefits of happiness

This leads us to ask how do we actually change direction in the way the HPI demonstrates that we should? Nic responds by suggesting that we should take happiness more seriously at all levels of society. He says, “happiness is not only an important goal in its own right, but it is also part of our adaptive evolutionary nature – helping us respond to any challenges we face.

“Effectively, our emotions are central to our evolved survival mechanisms; they are an essential part of the way we adapt to changes in our environment by facing challenges, approaching opportunities and solving problems.

“But there is another reason why it is important that we focus on happiness: it turns out that happier people are healthier, more successful and critically more generous.

“So, happiness is very dynamic in that our actions, our feelings, and our skills all build on each other. It is good for us and it is a classic social good, as it provides not only personal benefits but a cascade of social benefits, too. This is why happiness is not only a worthy goal for people and nations; it is also the key to how we will be able to develop creative solutions to the challenges we face.

“We need to stimulate people not to run away from climate change and sustainability. Instead, we need people to engage with these issues, to have compassion for other people and species, to be open and flexible about some inevitable changes, to be creative and innovative about creating solutions. I think it is by understanding the nature of our happiness that we will start to make the great transition to a world we all want; a world where happiness does not cost the Earth.”