India’s happiness is on a downward roll

I know I am late to the party, but I happened to read the World Happiness Report 2016 update [pdf] issued by the UN today only.

English: "Gross National Happiness is mor...

English: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product” by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, king of Bhutan. Slogan on a wall in Thimphu’s School of Traditional Arts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hadn’t expected India to have come near the top, since the publication of teh report, it has consistently been near the middle, slightly towards the bottom; but I also hadn’t expected it to be one of the biggest losers when it came to changes in happiness from year to year.

The World Happiness index is constructed by asking a representative sample of people from a nation a single satisfaction with life question (Cantril ladder) and then averaging the responses to arrive at the index for the country. One can answer any number from 0 (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life) to register one’s satisfaction with life.

India’s score was 4.4 while Denmark aced the happiness test, with its index being 7.4 (a difference of 3 point from India’s).  In a list of 157 countries India came at #118 behind every other country in South Asia including Pakistan!

More worrisome is the fact that when the current data from 2013-2015  was compared with data from 2005-2007, the average happiness level of people in India fell by 0.75 points from205-2207 and this decline made India earn the distinction of being the top 10 losers in the world as far as happiness is concerned!!  So we seem to be on a downhill descent into unhappiness and dystopia.

Another good this the authors of the report started measuring this time was inequality or distribution of happiness among the nations population. To put it simply just like there is inequitable distribution of income, well-being is also inequitably distributed among the population.

In some nations like Bhutan , the spread (standard deviation) of happiness among its population is not too large; its only 1.3 for Bhutan, meaning that with average happiness in Bhutan being 5.2, most of the population’s happiness lies between 3.9 to 6.5.  In India, on the other hand, spread of happiness is 2.1 , a much larger value signifying more inequality in distribution of happiness. Also, to note, this inequality or spread is itself worsening from 2005-2007 to 2013-2015.

Where does this leave us? What does it portend for India? For starters, we can learn from Bhutan which measures Gross National Happiness and has happiness as a cornerstone for all its policies. While its performance on the world happiness index is not outstanding (it features at #84), it is first in world when it comes to lowest inequality of well-being in the population.

It is thus apparent that happiness inequality can be reduced by systemically trying to make happiness a priority . Hope India learns from its neighbor in time and is able to reverse the downward spiral.

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