By Ruma Dubey
We are the fastest growing economy in the world and we are climbing higher, slowly and steady on the Ease of Doing Business ladder. But when it comes to happiness, we are slipping down consistently. In fact India is being listed amongst nations where happiness index is showing a decline, year after year.
There has to be some disconnect – how can the world’s largest democracy and fastest growing economy score so low on the Happiness Index, ranked at 133 out of 156, much below even Pakistan and Nepal! Clearly economic growth and GDP do not a direct co-relation. Tunisia, Ghana, Senegal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Iran, Mongolia… all rank ahead of us.
There is a new top ranking country, Finland, but the top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years, although with some swapping of places. Four different countries have held top spot in the four most recent reports- Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and now Finland.
All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.
Do we even consider these measures? Its only IIP, GDP and inflation and of course, the RBI. Everything in the country of Finland is set for happiness of the people - access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country. Again, these are not even priorities in our lives.
We need to take a lesson or two from our smallest neighbor – Bhutan which bases its entire policy decisions on its own happiness Index and not GDP, known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). The calculation of this index is based on 33 indicators and is based on the four pillars of GNH philosophy of promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment and establishment of good governance. Bhtuan formulates its five-year plans based on the findings of this report.
At some point, India needs to sit down and think, “Seriously, are we growing?” Every open space around you is disappearing faster than you can blink your eyes and a residential tower or commercial building “with ample parking space” comes up. Planting trees and providing more gardens is simply not done as we are growing and we need more and more space to “grow.” Education is getting costlier, malls have replaced all outdoor activities, mindless buying has become the favourite time-pass. We make roads, again break it and rebuild it; redevelopment is happening all around us – another sign of growth. Breaking down old infrastructure is growth and not spending money on preserving or nurturing them to exhibit our past heritage. People can remain healthy as long as they join gyms and spend tonnes of money on well-being but inherently healthy people are not wanted as it means less business to doctors, hospitals and the entire paraphernalia which comes up around this healthcare industry. War and civil unrest are great business opportunities and so is crime as they together generate billions of dollars’ worth business for making weapons, build secure systems. Increased border tension means more weapons, more money for defence spending. India is today the largest importer of weapons in the world – a tag which goes along with fastest growing economy in world?
What we really need is an economy which promotes well-being where natural resources are preserved, humans are not exploited; basically a healthy social and natural environment. This sounds almost Utopian and too idealistic for a country which is leading growth. But like Bhutan, can’t we achieve growth while preserving the environment and not constantly trading it off for development? If India is having its “acche din” why has our ranking on the Happiness Index fallen? Because we pay heed only to inflation, IIP, capital goods, market indices; we have paid no heed to simple 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?
So while BJP introspects and wonders what went wrong in UP, we also need to 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.
For a complete read on the World Happiness Index, go to: https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2018/WHR_web.pdf