India is known as a rich country with poor people. Measured in terms of the gross domestic product, or GDP, India’s rank is low. The modern concept of GDP was first developed by the Russo-American economist and statistician Simon Kuznets in 1934. The Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 adopted GDP as the main tool for measuring a country’s economy. The estimate of GDP became difficult and complex when value added by the public sector, the financial industries and by intangible asset creation were all required to be taken into account. GDP became the product of a vast patchwork of statistics and processes, carried out on raw data, to fit them with the conceptual framework.
Gross National Happiness
Dissatisfaction with GDP as a measure of an economy gave rise to the emergence of the concept of Gross National Happiness, or GNH, in 1972. The king of Bhutan pointed out how GNH is more important than GDP. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development.” Member nations were urged to follow the example of Bhutan and measure happiness and well-being by defined goals.
The World Happiness Report
The UN has released the latest World Happiness Report in March 2018. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranked 156 countries by happiness levels, based on factors such as income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. In the report, India is ranked at 133. However, Pakistan at 75, China at 86, Nepal at 101 and even Bangladesh at 115 are far ahead. The top 10 countries, by way of happiness, are as shown in the accompanying table. GNH is distinguishable from GDP. It values collective happiness as the goal of governance by emphasising harmony with nature. The four pillars of GNH are:
- Sustainable, equitable, and socio-economic development;
- Environmental conservation;
- Preservation and promotion of culture; and
- Good governance.
India’s rank is quite high in the corruption index that was released by the Transparency International. If Finland is the world’s happiest country, Burundi is at the bottom of the report. The Finns believe that access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare took them to the top rank. This is true of the other top nations in the report as well.
Latin America, with its high rates of poverty, income inequality, violence, corruption, ranks higher in the World Happiness Report mainly due to the remarkable warmth and strength of family bonds. Governments realise they should focus on supporting societal and family bonds as much as chasing economic growth. Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University and the author of ‘Stumbling On Happiness’ points out that once basic human needs are met, a lot more money does not make for a lot more happiness. In fact, it may lead to more stress.
In his latest work ‘The Origin of Happiness’, British economist Richard Layard notes how relationships play a critical role. Globally, as incomes have risen, happiness has not. This is because of breakdown of social factors. A sense of connection to families, wider society and community will all be critical. The people of Scandinavian countries can be credited with an egalitarian ethos where people care for each other.
Britain has established a minister for loneliness to take care of the people in depression. The Delhi government introduced happiness curriculum in schools. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have set up happiness index departments.
We still have in India men and women who shape people into better instruments of greatness and dreaming of finer lives. We must be proud of such personalities like Dr V Shanta of the Cancer Institute Chennai, Saalumarada Thimmakka who planted over 8,000 trees in Karnataka, Kunwar Bai of Chhattisgarh who sold her sheep to build a toilet in the village, and Ruskin Bond who finds heaven in the Himalayas. The average Indian is lost in communal conflagration, caste conflicts, water wars and food famine. No wonder, he finds that happiness is but an occasional interlude in a general drama of pain.
By TCA Ramanujam