Pursuit of happiness has been made a matter of rights of individuals in the statecraft of the West. However, when the whole world has shown euphoria about growth of GDP (gross domestic product) to measure prosperity, a small South Asian country, Bhutan, has presented the idea of gross national happiness.
At its 50th anniversary of independence, Bangladesh is faced with the challenge of how far happiness it can offer its citizens in the coming years and decades.
Still, one may wonder what the universally accepted criteria are for being considered happy on earth. In fact, there are criteria such as World Happiness Index, which has ranked the Finnish as the happiest nation in the world today.
Finland, in terms of size of the economy, is not even among the top 25. The US, blessed with the largest economy, has found itself in the 14th place.
That may mean to some extent that size doesn’t matter in becoming happier other than competitors.
The size of the Bangladesh economy, too, may not determine how far its people would be happy unless they largely and equally benefit from the growth. Bangladesh has ranked 101st in the happiness index whereas its GDP size is 41st in the world.
Conventional wisdoms says money can’t buy all aspects of happiness and to be happy even in terms of meeting consumption needs, one needs to be in good health – physically and mentally.
In 2020, Bangladesh witnessed 70 per cent more deaths from suicides than from Covid-19, according to Aanchal Foundation. Covid deaths could have exceeded suicides unless certain measures were taken to contain it or overcome its effects.
Up until March 08, as many as 8,462 coronavirus deaths were recorded while 14,436 people killed themselves in the year. In February this year, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), too, admitted that incidents of suicide had outnumbered the coronavirus deaths.
The Aanchal Foundation attributed 35 per cent of the suicide deaths to family problems, 24 per cent to relational stresses, four per cent to financial problems, and one per cent to educational reasons. It failed to determine the causes of 32 per cent other suicide cases.
However, ‘financial crisis’ was clearly assigned as the cause of such deaths in four per cent cases. Doesn’t this indicate that those people hadn’t got their fair or expected share in the economy, be it in family or nationally, ultimately? Experience shows suicidal deaths from financial frustrations often take place at the low-income rung of the society.
And whatever were the other causes of suicide, the situation suggests that those unfortunate incidents were the consequences of their mentally fragile state in which they could not withstand the stresses they faced in their lives.
Bangladesh’s ranking in the happiness index made by outsiders may not reflect the ground reality as the people agonies caused by the pandemic cannot be measured.
The United Nations has recommended Bangladesh’s graduation from the status of a least developed country to a lower middle-income nation, at a time when poverty has increased due to the fallout of the Covid-19.
Bangladesh’s economic progress has also been accompanied by widening disparity in terms of resources and opportunities. Quality of education and of healthcare service remains a major development challenge for the country. Education has been a casualty of the pandemic which has further exposed the health sector, not to mention the rising costs of healthcare services over the years.
As understood, happiness in a country depends on distribution of resources, availability of and access to opportunities for all and the atmosphere to grow on the part of the citizens.
In absence of universal healthcare coverage, people sometimes become poor in case of serious diseases, and due to lack of confidence in healthcare facilities at home, many affluent people go abroad.
Every year, thousands of Bangladeshi students move to different countries, mainly to make their career and fortune through higher education there.
Those who can well accommodate themselves abroad hardly return home and as a result, the country is deprived of their sophisticated learning and knowledge. Also, thousands of youths have to migrate with blue-collar jobs and spend the best part of their lives there.
However, many non-resident Bangladeshis now want to contribute to national development, especially in education, healthcare, engineering and business sectors. In this context, Bangladesh can learn something from China, which has undertaken programmes to attract talents. A large number of non-resident Indians played an important role in building India’s information and communications technology sector.
As Bangladesh wants to become a welfare state, as well as a developed nation, by 2041, the policymakers need to look at a few models to develop our own, home-grown model for progress by emphasising scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
To move in that direction, it’s important that the nation’s health – physical and intellectual – and strengths and weaknesses of the country’s development should be assessed in order to tap maximum national potential. Bangladesh has to make sure what its people aspire and that none feels excluded from the national development journey. Resect for people’s basic rights is a prerequisite for attaining development for all.
Soul-searching of the nation must be reflected in the exercise of freedom of thought and expression and in the rule of justice.
As sociologist TH Marshall states, a modern welfare state must have a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.
When Bangladesh is to make its next journey towards the centennial in 2071, it’s the citizens who have to be consulted in setting the goals in the light of their dreams. The collected aspiration is what for which Bangladesh came into being as an independent country.