The Financial Express

Does happiness index reflect true happiness?  

| Updated: March 24, 2021 21:56:03

Does happiness index reflect true happiness?   

Happiness is a concept relative to various contexts and changes in situations. When it comes to measuring the extent of happiness of the peoples across the world, it proves to be a stupendous challenge. How widely the measures of happiness vary when different criteria are applied by different institutes or organisations is reflected in the just published list of nations in the happiness index. According to the World Happiness Report 2021, Bangladesh ranks 68th among 149 countries surveyed. However, another list prepared on the basis of data (collected between 2018-20) from a Gallup World Poll, the country slides to 101st position---though an improvement of six notches. If this is somewhat complex confusing with countries lying at the bottom half, there is no complexity and confusion to decide the positions of the toppers. All the Nordic countries find their places among the top ten in the happiness index with Finland conquering the topmost position for the third time in a row.

So, the entire exercise cannot be dismissed as a futile exercise. Actually surveys or assessments like these try to encapsulate the quality of life and well-being of the peoples in countries. Well-being measures in a country capture the living standard of its people or in other words the quality of life. This does not mean the richest country and scientifically and technologically more advanced countries in the world will be the happiest as well. Socio-economic disparities can bring down all such achievements to a deplorable level. The GDP or per capita income may be just one of the many important factors responsible for making a people happy but certainly not the only criterion. Also there are people in this subcontinent who have never aspired for materialistic well-being. Saints, bauls and sanyasis (hermits) have renounced material possessions and comfort to live a spiritual life. All because they aspired for salvation from sorrows and life's bondage.

Yet for the general run, the objective is not spirituality. They prefer living a relatively easy and comfortable life. Apart from a reliable source of income, the other key variables are 'freedom to make life choices', confidence in social and political institutions, 'healthy life expectancy, level of available support from friends and relatives' when needed most together with 'generosity as a sense of positive community engagement'. The Nordic countries score high on such counts and their clinching factor is definitely less and less socio-economic disparities. Sure enough, small populations in all those countries help the cause.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, took an acid test of dispensations in reaching out to the affected people everywhere. Even with the world's best and highly advanced healthcare systems, some countries failed to live up to the expectations, whereas a few down the ranking fared well because of good governance. Besides healthcare, many rich countries also gave an awful account of themselves in managing the emergency food and other needs of the poor. This is because of the absence of the criteria that ensure a people's well-being. Outrageous inequality led to such dismal performances. A state can address crises even without being a welfare state only if it is caring enough to keep the disparities down to a tolerable level.

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