Can the rich idea of a poor country pave way for development?

Happiness in India

Happiness is ‘a mental or emotional state of well being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy’. It improves physiological functioning in humans to alleviate stress and lengthen life span.

The National Mental Health Survey conducted in 2015-16 revealed that nearly one in 20 Indians suffers from mental depression. By 2025, 38.1 million years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in India. ( Source: Lancet study 2016 )

It is critical to realise the importance of happiness, quantify it and find ways of imbibing it in our everyday course of life. The World Happiness Report is a watermark survey of the state of global happiness. It published its first report in 2012 and ranked 156 countries by their happiness levels using data from Gallup World Poll. The happiness index uses six parameters: per capita, social help, healthy life expectancy, social opportunity, liberality and absence of corruption

The World Happiness Index 2018 placed India in the 133rd position. It dropped from last year’s 122nd rank. India was far behind its neighbouring countries. Pakistan was at 75th position, while Bangladesh was at 115th. Nepal was at 101st rank and Sri Lanka at 116th position. Unfortunately, India ranks among the 42 Unhappy nations of the world. The happiest country in the world in 2018 was Finland which overtook Norway. Denmark was constantly ranked among the top five happiest countries of the world.

 Bhutan took a quantum leap in quantifying happiness and wellbeing by calculating Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP). His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan propagated the concept of GNH in the early 1970s. Centre of Bhutan Studies launched the Bhutan GNH Index in January 2010. It was furthermore accepted by 193 countries in the United Nations (2011) as the new economic paradigm. GNH index stands on four pillars: Good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation.

   Table 1: Domains and indicators of GNH Index

   Domains Number of indicators
Psychological wellbeing 4
Health 4
Time use 2
Education 4
Cultural diversity and resilience 4
Good governance 4
Community vitality 4
Ecological diversity and resilience 4
Living Standard 3
Total 33

  Source: Ura et al.

The Table 1 shows how GNH includes nine domains equally weighed (100%). It is grouped into 33 indicators and 124 variables.

We are in the age of the Anthropocene when the fate of the planet and all life is within the power of mankind. Boundless consumerism, widening socio-economic inequality and instability is causing rapid natural resource depletion and degradation. Climate change, species extinction, multiple crises, growing insecurity, instability and conflicts are not only diminishing our well-being but are also threatening our very survival.’ (Source: GNH Centre, Bhutan)

GNH makes use of three cut offs: 50%, 66% and 77% to categorise. People who meet sufficiency in less than 50% and 50-65% of domains are ‘unhappy’ and ‘narrowly happy’ come under policy priority. The ‘extreme happy’ people meet sufficiency in 66-76% of the domains ( between 6 and 7) and ‘deeply happy’ people in 77% domains (in 7 or more). GNH cut off has been set at 66% of the variables i.e. middle cut off. Happy human beings have sufficiency in 66% of the weighted indicators or more. The theory of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan attracts a great deal of global attention. It encourages countries such as Dubai, UK, South Korea, Canada and OECD nations to develop their individual better life/happiness/wellbeing indices.


India is the most populous democracy and the seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP in the world. IMF projected that India will become the world’s fifth-largest economy by 2025. If GDP is the factor that led to national happiness, then prosperous economies of China, USA and India would have occupied the top positions in the WHR 2018. Thus, there are some other factors other than financial prosperity that lead to the happiness of the Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. These countries have consistently topped the World Happiness Report. For India to go the Nordic way, it has to adopt some features of the happy Nordic countries. The economic growth and modernisation of India should not be at the expense of its people’s quality of life or moral values. The Easterlin paradox states that a point in time happiness varies directly with income but over a point of time happiness does not trend upward as income continues to grow. The transformation of India into a superpower will need the incorporation of its version of GNH indicators that imbibes the diversity and unique character of its people. It will be effective to devise policies which balance the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the people. Such happiness of people will remove the probability of anxiety, lack of inner peacefulness, race to richness and unhappiness. A key contribution to GNH is Environment Conservation as mentioned in its four pillars. Despite contributing natural resources, the environment can also heal people who enjoy untainted breeze and tranquillity of nature. Formulation of revolutionary policy measures for the conservation of the environment is crucial.

The Government of India can establish a goal to create collective happiness. Happiness should be a yardstick in developmental programmes and project. Countries such as Venezuela, UAE, Bhutan have established a Ministry of Happiness. India can also follow their footsteps and establish a Ministry of Happiness, the first of its kind in Indian history.

We can frame policies by taking feedback of local citizens. There can be a check on the implementation of those policies in the right way from the grassroots level. India can combine GDP with GNH to measure the holistic development of the country. The revolutionary concept of GNH has already set a standard for the policymakers to adopt it. Inner happiness is the foundation for nations to make policies and prosper in future.  

Author Bio

Samridhi Agarwal

Samridhi is public policy enthusiast who believes in one step at a time approach for sustainable development. She is a graduate in Economics honours from Daulat Ram College, Delhi University and currently a Post Graduate Diploma student of Economics at the Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics, Mumbai. She was Editor-in-Chief ......

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