A report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has ranked India 122nd among 155 countries in the World Happiness Index (WHI) for 2017. Last year India ranked 118th. In one year India has slipped by four percentage points. The ranking is based on six parameters—income, life expectancy, someone to depend on in difficult times, generosity, freedom and trust. What is more galling, all the immediate neighbours of India – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – rank above India in WHI. The survey has established one thing conclusively. GDP growth rate has nothing to do with happiness. Having more money does not necessarily mean more happiness.
Happiness depends on so many factors. One may be a well-to-do person but one may have a troublesome neighbour who is a constant thorn in one’s flesh. One may have money but not anyone to tend to in one’s old age. Generosity, one of the parameters used, is becoming a rare commodity these days. And these days it is difficult to find someone who can be implicitly and fully trusted. All the time one lives in fear that one may be cheated. Indeed, happiness is something hard to define. Decades ago, a mathematician presented a formula of happiness. It was E2 minus A2 = H. Simply put, it meant Energy minus Aversion is Happiness. But in real life, happiness cannot be reduced to or be explained by such simplistic formulae.
It may not be incorrect to say that the present social, political and economic trajectory in this country is running counter to the conditions that create happiness. The WHI takes ‘freedom’ as one of the parameters in determining the happiness index. Freedom means a lot of things – from freedom to eulogize and criticize to expressing one’s feelings of joy and sorrow. A poet may give expression to his feelings at current political developments somewhere in the country in a poem and then find that unknowingly he has offended the ‘sentiments’ of a citizen or a group of citizens and a criminal case has been filed against him. Whether he is ultimately acquitted or convicted is a different matter but in any case he and others like him would be afraid of expressing their feelings lest they should offend the feelings of someone or the other. The democratic space shrinks. The Constitution may make freedom of expression a fundamental right. But exercising that freedom in daily life may invite trouble. Indeed, it is difficult not only to define happiness but also to define what causes unhappiness in others.