Economists across the world are trying to look beyond incomes and GDP to measure wellbeing of individuals and countries. In this context, one of the latest focus areas has been the creation of happiness indices. People have long believed the happiness is the ultimate aim of human existence and rulers have strived to keep their subjects content.
Starting with Bhutan, rising number of countries and multilateral organisations have sought to create such happiness index. Recently, we Indians came in for a rude shock on the World Happiness Index. Our happiness ranking of 122 was well below even our poorer neighbors and lesser developed countries.
First reaction- How dare they? We will argue against foriegn rankings, complain about the methodology, fight against people who call us unhappy and proclaim we are the happiest in the world.
Seriously speaking, there are always questions raised about measurement of happiness. However, such concerns were also raised when development indices were first created. Despite the shortcomings, they can provide a useful insight into our society.
I strongly believe that everyone should be his own judge of his happiness. Indicators like income and assets judged objectively do not correctly demonstrate the levels of happiness. We should take a more personalised approach where an individual is asked about his happiness. Hence if a person says he is happy, he is!
In this context, this index assumes even more relevance. One of the questions that formed the basis of this index goes like this- “Imagine your life to be a ladder, with steps numbered from 1 to 10 where 10 denotes the best quality of life. Where do you feel you stand on the ladder?”
Having personally conducted surveys where respondents were asked this question, i got a clearer understanding for what comprises happiness for individuals. I have seen elderly women living alone in shambles rating their lives 10 while well successful men heading one of the most powerful families in the village rating their life 5.
Happiness is definitely a state of mind. It’s how you perceive things. A well off person can be unhappy while aiming for a better job, better car or a more loving relationship while a not-so-well-off person can be satisfied and happy. However, there doesn’t have to a be direct correlation between aspirations and unhappiness. An aspirational person can still be happy and satisfied if he believes he is doing everything in its control to fulfill his ambitions and is ready to accept both favourable and unfavorable outcomes.
Personally I believe, some simple ways to improve happiness indicators for the country include-
In addition to this, individuals should focus on
It is a welcome step that economists are moving beyond Incomes and abstract Utility measures and focusing more on people centric measures like happiness. Over time, it has to be realised that happiness is not rocket science rather it’s about keeping things simple.