The Happiness Index– Measuring Joy Across the Globe

The World Happiness Index is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network which contains a ranking of national happiness based on the respondents’ ratings of their own lives which also correlates it with various other life factors. This concept was first coined in 1979 by the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck who said “We do not believe in Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is very important.” It was here when economists started prioritizing happiness over other factors like wealth, comfort or economic growth. A Global Happiness Council was formed which created a happiness index based on several measureable factors , and has kept track of this index ever since its first release in 2012 . Finland has been ranked the happiest country as on March 2019, followed by Denmark and Iceland.

Methodology used to estimate the Happiness Index

The Cantril Ladder or the Happiness Ladder is used by researchers where the sample population is asked to rank their satisfaction with respect to their present living conditions. The ladder is assumed to be numbered from 0-10, where 10 represents the best possible life and living conditions whereas 0 presents the worst possible life and living conditions. More than a million samples have been taken in total from across various nations, and their answers have been used to create the yearly Happiness Index.

The Gallup World Poll questionnaire measures 14 areas within its core questionnaire which includes- Business and economics, citizen engagement, communication and technology, social diversity, education and family, individual well-being, environment and energy, food and shelter, government and politics, law and order, health, religion and ethics , transportation and work culture. The Happiness Index is simply calculated by taking an average of all these factors to a single number.

The Gallup poll interviews roughly around 1,000 registered citizens of a country each year. These people are randomly selected and it is made sure that they are of 15 years of age or older.

Factors affecting the Happiness Index

According to researchers of the World Happiness Report there are 7 key factors which have a very positive and high correlation with the Happiness Index.

The first key factor is the GDP or the Gross Domestic Product. A stable GDP growth rate measures how fast the economy is growing. GDP is basically the sum total of the all the goods and services produced in an economy in a given year. Higher GDP indicates that the people have a higher scale of Income. Money enables a nation to grow, develop, increase convenience, and improve various other aspects of life that could lead to happiness. It can be observed that increased wealth of a country can significantly  lead to a higher level of Happiness as happy countries are also wealthy countries. Therefore we can conclude that Money can buy Happiness up to a certain degree.

The second important factor is social support. In a survey, the sample population was asked whether they could count on their friends and relatives for help during times of crisis. Respondents were only allowed to answer saying either yes or no and a yes would equal 1 and a no would amount to 0. The average of all the answers would then be taken as a single value representing the total amount of social support in the country. Again, we see that poor countries are likely to score lower. However it must be noted that this scale is exponential and not linear.

Health life expectancy can be defined as an average number of ‘healthy’ years a child is estimated to live after birth. It is calculated by the World Health Organisation or WHO, based on over 100 different health factors. Again it is obvious that healthy and physically fit people are happier people and countries which have a healthier lifestyle also tend to be happier countries.

Freedom to make life choices is another key factor of the Happiness Index where the respondents are asked to rank their answers just like they did in the case of social support. The sample respondents were asked if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with their freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives. The average of the results was taken as a single value determining the factor of a particular country.

Another very important indicator which helps us to determine the happiness of a country is generosity. It is a broader concept that what we know. Giving monetary material is not the only part of generosity but any good deed performed, like helping a stranger in a small way can be considered to be an act of it. Psychologists have found a very strong link between performing generous deeds and happiness, and further studies have found that an area of the brain is linked with contentment and the reward cycle. Again, we see that countries or citizens who are more involved in charitable activities are happier. Hence we can conclude that sharing and caring for each other does makes the world a happier place.

Citizens’ opinion of corruption is also an essential measure which is calculated by averaging the answers of two important questions; the first being, is corruption widespread or not, and the second, are business organizations widespread or not. Unfortunately, most people who took the concerned survey said that corruption was indeed widespread. It is sad to see that most people are of the opinion that they live in a very corrupt world. Fortunately this particular factor has the smallest correlation with the happiness index.

India’s ranking

According to the latest world happiness report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network report, India has dropped down seven spots in the happiness ranking from its position in 2018. India’s rank is 140th out of 152 countries as of March 2019. It must also be noted that India’s ranking is far behind that of its immediate neighbors like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

There are various reasons for this low ranking, the first being the increasing levels of poverty and inequality prevailing in India. There are people in India who do not get food to eat and are living in deplorable conditions. The GHI or the Global Hunger Index has ranked India 102 out of 118 countries which is a very poor score and a serious matter of concern. Moreover, the Indian economy is going through a recessionary phase where employment is in a huge state of crisis. India might be growing quantitatively but it is not developing, which is more of a qualitative index. One of the major ways of facilitating economic development is to ensure continued growth and justice through a better distribution of the national wealth produced in the country. A 2017 survey said that India’s richest 1 per cent have cornered almost 73% of the total wealth created in the country.

As we have mentioned earlier, health, be it physical or mental, is a vital factor in people’s happiness and well being. However, we see that India’s public health spending is well below the global average at just 1.4 per cent of its GDP. This leaves our huge population, who are mostly poor and deprived, dependant on pitiable healthcare facilities. The shocking case of early fading physicians in Kerala, which is apparently the most socially advanced State in India, has also been observed, thus signifying how bleak the emerging situation is.

India has failed to build a trustworthy and meaningful relationship among its citizens. This could be happening mostly because of a growing religion based nationalist feeling which is being instilled among its people. Maybe this manipulation is being used to maintain the control of power by the higher authorities. The country’s insensitivity towards its own people could also be seen when devastating floods had engulfed Kerala and its people, and nasty comments with respect to religion were passed.

India’s political system and business establishments are not being able to function in a very effective way. Corruption and fraudulent practices still occur as can be exemplified with respect to Nirav Modi’s case and other similar episodes. These could be the possible explanations as to why India’s rank has dropped in the latest Global Corruption Perspective Index.

India’s attitude towards generosity and sympathy should also be noted. Our indifferent attitude towards the Rohingya Crisis was utterly inhumane which also throws light on our pseudo nationalism, self obsession and Islamophobic attitude which is being further instilled among the people. On the contrary, India had previously welcomed and had provided warmth and shelter to Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees.

The impact of happiness

The fundamental reason why happiness or positivity is so important is because it is extremely vital for achieving our own goals in life. Happy people usually live for longer on an average, have stronger immune systems, endure pain better, are more content with jobs and are more productive. Marriages too are successful among happy couples. Happiness is a choice and we must always choose to be happy under all circumstances. We have a very short life to live, and therefore, we should surround ourselves with love, kindness and abundant happiness.

Picture Credit- Getty Images

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