John Lennon has been credited by the social media of uttered these profound words..
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
Its debatable whether John Lennon said it or not, but these words ring so true. All of us in this pursuit to stay ahead, fool ourselves about what happiness is really about. World over, except for Bhutan, have got the measurement of prosperity all wrong. It’s all only about GDP or GAV.
While we go on talking and writing about growth, have we stopped once to wonder what exactly is this “growth” that we are talking about? Let’s look at this from a very simplistic view point – the one thing which immediately comes to mind is increase in wealth. And when we dig deeper, we think of growth in terms of improvement in quality of life, better education, better health, good food and care. When all these get better than what it was before is what we call growth. But all these – education, food, care, generate costs. When we deduct the cost we pay with the growth we have got, we get value. Thus growth is all about value and less about costs, right?
But what we are seeing as growth today is all about costs. We can get better education, healthcare, better homes, better quality of life but all come at a very high cost – much more than the value it generates. It means what we pay for and what we getting is imbalanced. Like you get good houses in Mumbai but do you get value – the potholed roads, the sloth and grim, the traffic jams, the poor quality of construction, leaking roofs, all these bring down the value; so you have grown but not really getting value for the money you are spending.
Thus it comes as no surprise to know that India has slipped down 7 points, from 133 to 140 out of 156 countries counted on the Happiness Index for 2019. So how does this Math add – we are the fastest growing economy in the world, but we are so low on the Happiness Index? Those below 140 are mostly nations ravaged by war. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, even Palestine are way ahead of us.
The top three are once again the Scandinavian countries led by Finland, Denmark in second and Norway at number three.
The report ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.
Ranking high on the Happiness Index does not mean that the country is well protected from violence or other traumas but what matters is how the country responds to these attacks or calamities. New Zealand itself is a fine example’ look at the way it responded; little wonder that it ranks 8th on the index.
Thus it comes as no surprise to know that not a single so-called super power made it to the top 10 on the Index - United Kingdom came in 15th place, up from 18th place, while Germany came in 17th place, down from 15th. Japan came in 58th place (down from 54th), Russia came in 68th place (down from 59th) and China came in 93rd place (down from 86th). The conclusion is there for all to see – economic growth does not guarantee happiness.
Even as India gets ready for the election circus, we really need to ponder about parameters like mutual trust, willingness to pay taxes, speed at which are ready to give up honesty to corruption, examine our social safety nets. Nowadays, do we even talk about these things?
When we look at mere GDP, let us also mentally measure whether we have grown in the real sense. For an individual, happiness does not come from a good job, higher education, wealth, marriage, children; it comes from a strong inner self, with the ability to confront and conquer one’s own weaknesses. Ditto for a nation – we need to get stronger from within, pursuing GDP alone is like chasing a butterfly in a field of orchids.