Happiness economics has finally received global recognition. It implies that economic indicators such as the gross national product, per capita income, healthcare facility, employment and wealth must be related with national happiness.
The World Happiness Report, 2020 has ranked 156 countries by happiness of their citizens based on six key variables — income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Finland, despite not having the highest GDP, tops the list due to its social safety, personal freedom and a work-life balance while materially superior countries are ranked lower. The results mean that growth in happiness is not always accompanied by growth in economic prosperity.
A somewhat similar phenomenon called “Easterlin paradox” was observed by Richard Easterlin in post-World War USA. This paradox showed decline in happiness at a very high level of economic growth. One reason for this paradox may be skewed distribution of income and wealth resulting in growing economic inequality accompanying economic growth. These findings give some hope that national happiness can be increased even if material prosperity is not among the highest. If people are covered by a social safety net, they have little to worry about healthcare, education, unemployment or old-age pension. In today’s bleak global scenario, both economically and health-wise, increasing the happiness quotient becomes all the more important.
The term Gross National Happiness was coined in 1979 by Bhutan and was determined by nine domains and four pillars. In 2011, the United Nations recognised the achievement of happiness as a fundamental human goal, and decided to observe March 20 as the International Day of Happiness. Thanks to global surveys, there is now an increasing awareness of this goal. India, Canada, Brazil, the US, UK, UAE, the Philippines and Thailand have undertaken efforts to measure and increase happiness and well-being beyond GDP.
Various states in India have taken up this task in the right earnest and started happiness counselling. The Way to Happiness Foundation International conducts workshops across schools and the Delhi Police. Happiness classes are included in Delhi schools based on the triad for happiness. Gujarat University recently introduced a certificate course in “Happiness Counselling” through meditation, yoga, neurology, social activities, music, food and dance. Madhya Pradesh has set up a happiness department and organises “Happiness Camps” to teach positive outlook towards life. Andhra Pradesh has come up with a “Happiness Index” department to measure development in the state.
We need a paradigm shift together with an effective mechanism to deliver the skill of happiness. Social and economic tensions need to be addressed for positivity, mental peace and happiness. India has made tremendous progress in economic prosperity and healthcare infrastructure. We now need to focus on social safety networks. A scheme may be framed which allows volunteers to serve old or ailing people and their service hours get deposited in a social service bank account. In return, the volunteers can claim the same number of service hours in their own old age. This can create a wonderful chain of service and make each generation assured of old-age care, thus taking some social burden off the back of the government.
Some more actions are required. While employment of women is necessary for growth in GDP, their safety and dignity is absolutely necessary for social harmony and happiness. Media, movies and market can create awareness towards this social responsibility.
For the safety of life, traffic and cleanliness, all stray animals should be removed from the roads, parks and office buildings. All such stray animals may be looked after by animal-loving people and organisations. Compassion for animals should not mean blocking traffic, roads or parks. For enduring mental peace, litigation needs to be minimised through minimum laws codified in simple language. Delivery of justice has to be speeded up with decisions in simple language and in the minimum length possible to save the precious time of all.
We see a growth of charitable and religious trusts, flush with funds, proliferating in an unorganised manner. They all claim to be working for all the noble objectives possible under the sun. Still there are deprived people at every nook and corner. These trusts must work in tandem with the government to achieve plan objectives in areas like education, skill centres, hospitals, helping orphans/unemployed/old people, protection of women and environment. Their growth should be allowed only in the areas where it is required. This will contain their mushroom growth in an unorganised manner and will complement/supplement the government’s efforts to achieve Plan objectives through better utilisation of voluntary funds.
Our deeply divided society has to be patched up with peaceful, reconciliatory and diplomatic means like education, awareness and social safety net. We need a Ministry of Happiness with academicians, economists, psychologists and social thinkers to map the road to happiness forever. The quest of humanity for another habitable planet must begin with making our own planet happy and liveable.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 23, 2020 under the title ‘A Ministry of Happiness’. The writer, an IRS officer, is Principal Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi
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