An index that maps happiness

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New Delhi | Published: July 2, 2018 1:54:45 AM

An internet report suggested that if you want happiness, buy a scarf and gloves, and head to Norway—to experience real happiness.

When inequality levels are low and welfare systems are strong, citizens are happy

An internet report suggested that if you want happiness, buy a scarf and gloves, and head to Norway—to experience real happiness. Norway is well-known for its good public services and political stability. Denmark is another country that is famous for happiness nurtured in its culture. Danes have a stable government, little public corruption, and access to high-quality education and healthcare. The country does have the highest taxes in the world, but the citizens happily pay the taxes because they believe higher taxes can create a better society.

What makes the people of a country happy? Is it economy? Is it environment? Is it education? Is it government policies? Well, all of these do contribute to people’s happiness. But it is not necessary to have a higher economic pace and growth always. People are happier when they don’t experience inequality in distribution of wealth; people don’t mind paying taxes when there is fairness in tax structure. People are happy when government practises transparency in the implementing policies. People want safety, people want welfare, people want good infrastructure, hygiene, and people want good-quality education.

Corruption undermines government revenue and, therefore, limits the capacity of the government to invest in productive areas. Corruption distorts the decision-making in public investment projects. It’s been observed that the higher the level of corruption in a country, the larger the share of its economic activity that will go subversive, beyond the reach of the tax authorities. Corruption discourages entrepreneurship and innovation; it only encourages inefficiency. It dislocates the human resources. It creates uncertainty among the citizens. And it diminishes legitimacy in all walks of life and increases crimes.

In all countries there are rich and poor, but when the levels of inequality are low, and the welfare systems are strong, the citizens are happy. People don’t mind paying higher taxes. Look at Denmark, it ranks 158th in the world, and Switzerland is even worse, at 174th in the world and economic ranking standards.

The World Happiness Index Report is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which contains rankings of national happiness and analysis of the data from various perspectives. The first World Happiness Report was released in April 2012. In a high-level meeting of the UN, well-being and happiness were defined as new economic paradigms that drew international attention.

The report primarily uses data from the Gallup World Poll. Gallup is a credible polling organisation. It is respected highly in the media. Nevertheless, all researches including polling have some weaknesses that depend on the various methodologies and details of the poll and its questionnaires. Each research has few statistical limitations. Gallup ensures that each annual report is available to the public to download on the World Happiness Report website.

Happiness index is measured using parameters like housing, income, work, community, civic engagement, education, environment, health, life satisfaction, safety and life-work balance etc. Each report is organised by chapters that delve deeper into issues relating to happiness. The chapters also include mental illness, the objective benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics, policy implications that lead to subjective well-being. The report is based on how strong a country’s social foundation and social trust is.

Bhutan is one of the Buddhist kingdoms in the world and, so far, has preserved much of its culture since the 17th century. Even with globalisation, Bhutan follows its Buddhist culture. It allows a certain number of foreigners into the country each year, and the $200 per a day that must be paid by every traveller is a deterrent for many. Internet, television and western dresses were banned from the country up until 10 years ago. But over the past 10 years, globalisation has proved to be a challenge to this tiny nation. Things have begun to change, but they are trying to balance things in their own way.

Bhutan is the only country in the world that has measures GNH, or Gross National Happiness. The process of measuring GNH began when Bhutan opened up to globalisation. It measures people’s quality of life, and makes sure that both material and spiritual development happen together in its citizens’ lives. Bhutan has balanced it rightly, so far.

Happiness is very important to both individuals and as a country. A happy individual is productive and creative. As human beings, although we possess cognitive abilities and are highly “thought-oriented,” the quality of our lives is determined by our emotions. A happy human is emotionally strong because happiness protects heart, it strengthens immune system, it helps in combating stress, it has been found that happy people have fewer aches and pains.

All Nordic countries are among the happiest countries on the planet, as are Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Finland is the winner in the 2018 report. Its 5.5 million residents enjoy more forest per square mile than any European country. They have maintained extremely high environmental standards. It’s a peaceful place. Its immigrants are also happy. The World Happiness Report made a particular mention of the consistency in happiness between them and local born residents.

In the 2018 World Happiness Index Report, India ranks at 133rd place, with a drop of 11 places since the previous report. Pakistan is ranked 75th, while Nepal is ranked at 101st, Sri Lanka at 116th position and Bangladesh at 115th; Bhutan is at the 97th place. If you are wondering which is the world’s least happy country? It is Burundi, followed by Central African Republic, South Sudan and Tanzania, due to condemnation of life in Africa.

By- Vidya Hattangadi, Management thinker and blogger

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