What should deeply concern us is that despite our apparent progress, India has slipped further seven spots in 2019 in the UN World Happiness Index to the 140th position among 156 nations.
It has also not been flattering to find that our neighbours seem to have fared somewhat better — Pakistan has ranked 67, Bangladesh 125th and China 93rd. As is customary, theories of how unfair and biased these ranking agencies are bound to pop up. But let us face it, this downhill slide despite a sharp reduction in India’s poverty and a doubling of GDP has generated much debate as to what makes citizen of a nation happy. Let me start by giving you a brief background about how happiness is assessed in this survey. It takes into account six parameters of well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life-expectancy, social support and generosity. Finland has ranked as the happiest nation and has been followed closely by other Scandinavian neighbours Norway, Sweden, Denmark and then Iceland, Netherland…and so on. USA is at rank 19. One of the prime differentiators between happy and unhappy people and something that we can relate to is the nagging feeling of insecurity or uncertainty that we live through.
Social security, where one does not have to worry about children’s education, healthcare, safety, pension seems to reduce worries and fights, and make us happy. Also, crime and physical insecurity lurking in crowded urban cities could be making Indians fearful and unhappy. Although they do not earn so very much as the rich in USA for example, Scandinavians do not have to worry about health-care expenses, children’s education, daily food and old age pension, the four common worries. The other important factor for unhappiness in unhappiness is the wide variations in wealth distribution between the very poor and the opulent.
Their living close to each other makes comparison inevitable. Destination weddings of the rich in exotic locations can generate uneasiness in the poor watching it on TV; in the socialist Scandinavian countries, the differences are muted. The hard reality that we are an unhappy nation despite our rich cultural and philosophical heritage must be hard to accept. It need not, however, be such a huge surprise if you just imagine how the driver of the car that was ahead of you on the road whose rear end your car accidentally happened to touch, is likely to behave.
India’s market-driven system where we are encouraged from a young age to compete, fight and succeed over rivals, cannot be a recipe for happiness. Contentment becomes the casualty. It is time that our leaders and government devoted attention to “happiness” as an important determinant of health, and invested more in ensuring social security, harmony and contentment. Mere improvement of GDP or lip service on the scriptures has obviously not yielded results. We need to rethink our strategy.
Dr Gourdas Choudhuri is the Director & Head of Department of Gastroenterology and Hepato-biliary Sciences at Fortis Memorial Research Institute.