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How Does This UN Report Calculate The Happiness Index Of A Country?

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The World Happiness Report 2021 by the United Nations says that in terms of happiness, India ranks 139 out of 149 countries. It means that India is the the eleventh worst country in the world in terms of happiness. It means that only a few war-torn countries are behind India in terms of happiness.

After all, what is this happiness report? On what basis is the happiness of a country calculated? Now, you might be thinking if it is possible to calculate happiness, especially at the level of a country? Does the surveyor go to people and ask “How happy are you?” to then prepare the report? Well, no. That is not the case.

Many experts and politicians believe that measuring the happiness of citizens of a country is much more imperative than measuring the GDP, because GDP is only an economic indicator that cannot tell you how happy the people of that particular country are. In fact, GDP is one thing that can increase due to several irrelevant reasons in a country. For example, if the road in front of your house gets damaged every year and is repaired every year, then the GDP will grow more than if a good road was built and did not need repair for the next 10 years.

Similarly, when a country goes to a war with another country, more weapons are created and more factories are set up to manufacture those weapons that will resultantly increase the GDP of the country. But going on a war is neither a good thing for the country nor its citizens. There is a term to explain this phenomenon, i.e. the Broken Window Fallacy. This fallacy is when you break a window and then ask a worker to repair it. In turn, the worker gets employment and there is circulation of currency. But it helps our country in no way. It may be the reason why our former Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated that happiness is no less than GDP.

What is the UN World Happiness Report? On what basis is the happiness of a country calculated?

Now, the question that arises is: how do we calculate happiness? For this reason, a report is published every year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, known by the name ‘World Happiness Report’. Now, let’s see how we can measure happiness in this report and how the countries are compared.

This report has six criteria:

  1. GDP per capita
  2. Healthy life expectancy
  3. Social support
  4. Freedom to make life choices
  5. Generosity
  6. Perception of corruption

Among these, we have hard data available for the first two criteria. We all know that the GDP per capita of a country can be easily calculated. Clear data on the average life expectancy of citizens is also available with the World Health Organisation. So, the first two are measured simply on the basis of the data available, while the rest four are measured on the basis of surveys. A sample size of people is taken and they’re asked questions. So, what questions are asked in this survey? Let’s see it one by one:

  • In the criteria of social support, it is asked: If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not? You have to rate it on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 represents you don’t trust your family and friends to help you, and 10 would mean that you trust them 100%. The scale of 0 to 10 is called the Cantrill Life Ladder, where 10 is the best possible life for you and 0 is the worst possible life. This question is asked to 1,000-3,000 people in a specific country, which becomes their sample size. These surveys are conducted by the Gallup World Poll Agency. 
  • Freedom to make life choices: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life? This question is based on the choice of aspects such as one’s choice of career, religion one wants to profess, food they eat, clothes they wanna wear, and many more.
  • Generosity: Have you donated money to a charity in the past month? Now, this an interesting question because only a person who is happy with their life will donate. Several scientific researches have repeatedly pointed out that when a person helps others and it gives them happiness, the person giving help becomes happier too.
  • Corruption perception: Under this, a very straight-forward question is asked: Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not? Is corruption widespread within business or not?

A country is scored in each of these criteria and the average score of these is the final score of the country, which is somewhere between 0-8, where 8 is the highest and 0 is the lowest.

In the 2021 report, the happiest country was Finland, which scored 7.842 and the least happiest country was Afghanistan, whose score was calculated to be 2.523. India scored 3.819, which is indeed terrible. And if you go on comparing India’s score and rank, you’ll find that both have been deteriorating rapidly.

people standing in line for a job test or interview
What people feel and their opinion on that issue can be influenced by a lot of things — their environment, thinking and the conditions prevailing in the country.

What’s noteworthy is that all the neighbouring countries, have started performing better. Pakistan ranked 105 in the report, Bangladesh 101, China 84 and Nepal 87. The report shows us some very shocking things. Why is India’s rank falling rapidly? In this report you’ll also get to see which countries topped each criterion and which were at the bottom. If you see India’s rank for each criterion, you’d see that India is terrible in social support. But, in freedom, corruption and generosity , India didn’t perform that bad.


But, do remember that these questions are based on one’s perception. What people feel and their opinion on that issue can be influenced by a lot of things — their environment, thinking and the conditions prevailing in the country. For the four categories in the survey, if you check the individual ranking of these, you’d understand what I mean to say.

For example, in generosity, Myanmar is at the top. Now, is Myanmar the only country where people donate the most? It sounds doubtful. But, is Myanmar a country where people believe that they donate the most? It is possible. Similarly, in the perception of corruption criterion, the worst countries are Bulgaria and Romania. I agree that corruption level in these European countries is high, but if you compare it with other countries around the world, then do Bulgaria and Romania really have the highest corruption? This is hard to believe, but if you ask the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, in their opinion, it would seem so.

Similarly, in the social support category, India got one of the worst ranks. Does that mean India is a country where people don’t take care of each other? We will not believe this. So, in my opinion, these are some of the limitations of this report. It is based on the subjective happiness of people. People are questioned and it is based on their perception.

But, this does not mean that this report is completely useless. I’d say that this report needs to be used in the correct sense. One of the best uses of this report may be that we can compare the score of the happiness of India to past years. Because when a country’s score is compared to its own, all these variable factors remain the same. And in it, it is clearly evident that India’s score has been falling in the past few years.  This means that people have been feeling that corruption has increased. People aren’t as generous as they used to be, they do not have the freedom they used to have. These are the few things worth considering.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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