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The Financial Express

What makes a nation happy

| Updated: October 24, 2017 04:05:36


What makes a nation happy

Measuring happiness is an impossible proposition. It is a mental state of an individual and therefore varies from person to person. Also mood swings can make the same person react differently to similar situations at different times. When an individual's psychosomatic conditions are dependent on both internal changes and exogenous incidents, exchanges and events, it is more daunting to explore the level of happiness of a nation.
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations as late as 2012, has been taking pains to perform this uncannily formidable job. If happiness is a nebulous concept, there is however a general feeling of contentment that people so much prize in their living and livelihoods. Wealth alone does not guarantee happiness; rather at times it may be a source of many troubles both in an individual's or even a nation's life. 
If personal concerns -- particularly of the emotional and abstract forms -- are left alone, on a broad spectrum the collective well-being counts. And on that count, a nation's happiness can roughly be measured by applying some tangible facts  represented by marks on a scale. One such fact, of course, is the state of economy. It has to be strong enough to support a desirable living standard for the entire population. Although the gross domestic product (GDP) is a reflection of a country's economy, it can very well be misleading as well if wealth gets concentrated in a few hands. Maldistribution of national wealth like the few super rich people's outrageously high proportion of share in global wealth can definitely deprive the majority people of a decent living. 
The unpalatable truth is that in some of the countries championing democracy fall in this category. There are street people on the one extreme and most of the top billionaires in the world, on the other. The poor and underdeveloped countries are not even free from such disparities in the distribution of wealth. This certainly is a reason behind both categories of rich and poor countries faring poorly in the happiness index. 
No country has been able to ensure equitable share of national wealth. But to redress this lapse, some countries have developed some well-orchestrated social programmes in order to take care of those not doing well on their own or suffer from various constraints. The Scandinavian countries are well ahead of the rest of the pack in ensuring an enabling living condition for their citizens. Notably, these are the nations that are not at each other's throat. This means, expenditure on armament is the minimum possible and instead they can spend money on social security. 
Costa Rica in Central America is a country to have done away with a military force and it is no surprise that the country is doing fine in terms of social progress. Its comparatively weak economy could not stand in the way of pulling it in the forefront of happy nations. With the lowest GDP per capita among the top 20, the country has found itself in the 12th slot, two places ahead of the USA. High levels of social support in combination with low level of perceived corruption have made this to happen. Costa Rica also boasts an enviable record of sustainable and renewable energy. It has to its credit going without fossil fuels for 76 days at a stretch. 
Norway ranks number one in the list of happiest nations. It has progressed three places to topple Denmark. All the Nordic countries have high GDP per capita, social support programmes, higher life expectancy, social liberty, a healthy communal bond in society, and low levels of perceived corruption. These are vital for pulling societies ahead. The rat race of modern life with all its attendant ills has given rise to a hostility syndrome in most societies. Fellow feeling is on the ebb and the majority are elbowing competitors out of the race by foul or fair means. 
Simmering discontent, crimes and corruption are so prevalent in many of the so-called modern societies that the materialistic progress has corrupted human soul. The ideal of living in peace has been undermined by an unhealthy competition for procuring wealth and luxury. Poor countries are also blindly imitating some of the Western countries in terms of economic policies and practices unaware that their wealth does not support such an ambition.
It is at this point, the example of countries like Costa Rica should shine like a beacon. In the Happy Planet Index, this country has even topped the list beating the more fancied Scandinavians. There is hardly any mystery in this fact. The country has opted for many of the policies and programmes independent of any dictate from big brothers. This is reason enough for it to pull ahead. But it has also complemented its socio-economic programmes with those of the environmental. About a quarter of its geographic area is protected rain forest. No doubt, its small population has proved favourable. But this too depends on demographic policies. 
At 110th position in the happiness list, Bangladesh also has done well in terms of economy and development. But the definition of development certainly needs to be tuned with social justice where people feel free to choose a living well supported by the state. Security of life and social peace and justice are thus granted and life becomes worth living.                
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