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World Happiness Report: Ranked Below Pakistan, Palestine, Why Isn’t India Happy?

Being ‘happy’ is also about dignity. But dignity comes from equal opportunity.

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Yeh Jo India Hai Na, it is not so ‘Happy’.

India has been ranked 126th in the World Happiness Report and that is hurting. What hurts more is that India or Bharat or whatever you prefer to call it, has been ranked below Pakistan, whom we have beaten in war, per capita income, cricket, and hockey. How a basket case like Pakistan is ranked above us at #108, is the temporary outrage here in India.

Temporary because nothing really shocks us for too long, especially when it’s something that is mainly about India’s ‘invisible’ poor and underprivileged.

Also, for anyone who has adjusted to the realisation that Pakistan is ‘happier’ than India, here is more - India’s ‘Happiness’ ranking is also below Iraq, Myanmar, and even Palestine!

So, why is India not ‘Happy’?

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How Does the Report Arrive at its Findings?

Well, the Happiness Report looks at a few key factors to arrive at their rankings. For instance, the perception of corruption among citizens, the freedom to make life choices, social support, life expectancy, and of course, income.

When it comes to the link between ‘happiness’ and ‘income’, we need to look at not just actual income, but also at the disparity in incomes, and a growing awareness among India’s poor about this disparity. A recent World Inequality Lab report is quite revealing.

The report says that the richest one per cent of India’s population, that is 14 million people, own 39 per cent of India’s wealth. In contrast, India’s poorest 50 per cent, that is 700 million people, own just 15 per cent of the nation’s wealth. And this damning disparity is at an all-time high. So, naturally, these 700 million people are far from happy.

Today, even the middle 40 per cent of India’s population, whom we could roughly call India’s ‘middle class’, own a smaller share of the nation’s wealth than they ever did. Their share has fallen from 41 per cent in 1997 to just 27 per cent in 2022.

This growing inequality is not going unnoticed by India’s poorest 50 per cent, nor by India’s 40 per cent ‘middle class’. On the internet, on social media, on their mobile phones — to which almost every Indian now has some minimal access and exposure — this vast 90 per cent of India can see what they are missing. And knowing that, understandably, makes them even more unhappy than just being unhappy about not earning or having enough.

In absolute terms as well, a recent National Sample Survey Office report has revealed that India’s poorest 20 per cent, that is 420 million people — the population of Russia and the United States put together — earn just Rs 70 a day. Nobody can lead a dignified life with so little, we know that.

So, why should these 420 million people be happy?

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'Happiness' is Also About Empowerment

A few critics of the Happiness Report have argued that the ‘toppers’ of the list are countries with smaller, more ‘manageable’ populations, and so we may be comparing apples and oranges. Yes, the Top 10 don’t have big populations, but then what’s the ranking of countries comparable to India?

Here’s the answer – Brazil is ranked at #34, Mexico is ranked at #35, Argentina is ranked at #52 and Indonesia at #80. So, let’s trash that objection and read on.

As mentioned, being ‘happy’ is also about dignity. But dignity comes from equal opportunity, which in India, in large part, is linked to caste. Millions of Indians are still denied access to quality education, proper jobs, bank loans, pucca homes and roads, and even water and electricity. Why?

Because of their caste. And many among these millions of India’s underprivileged are aware of this, and the irrationality and patent unfairness of it. And that, of course, makes them unhappy.

‘Happiness’ is also about empowerment. Regular elections have always given us Indians a feeling that when it comes to the ballot box, India’s richest and poorest are equal, i.e., both have a single vote. But in recent times, with scandals like the electoral bonds scheme blowing up, that feeling has taken a beating.

On a daily basis, we have been reading news reports, several of which were exclusively reported by The Quint, about companies and business entities ‘donating’ vast sums of money either to curry favour with political parties, or out of fear after being targeted by law enforcement agencies.

This suggests that we were naïve in imagining that there was a level playing field. Instead, what’s been exposed, more starkly than ever before, is India’s corrupt crony culture, which undermines our democracy. Surely those ‘donating’ money have power and clout in central and state government corridors, which is mightier than the power of our vote.

And so, as we watch our precious vote losing value, our ‘unhappiness’ quotient is bound to rise.

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What About the Minorities, and Even Our Upcoming Generation?

But there’s more.

In recent years, 20 per cent of India, our minorities, have been targeted – economically, socially, and physically. We have all seen multiple viral videos calling for the economic boycott of Muslims, of them being mob-lynched on the roads, of their homes being bulldozed, of inter-faith marriages being targeted as ‘love-jihad’ and more. We have seen videos of Christian pastors and congregations being roughed up, and of church buildings being vandalised. We have seen protesting Sikh farmers being vilified on communal lines as ‘Khalistanis’.

More than ever before, in a majoritarian India, minorities are feeling legitimately insecure. They see MPs, MLAs, and other leaders of India’s ruling party backing the actions of those who target and abuse them, confirming a feeling that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. And so, why would this 20 per cent of India’s population, be happy?

Other aspects of the ‘Happiness’ Report should also worry us.

For instance, is India’s upcoming generation ‘happy’? Unfortunately, no. For people between the ages of 15 to 24, the ‘happiness’ rating for South Asia is the lowest compared to any other region in the world. And since Pakistan and Bangladesh, the two other large population countries in the area, are ranked higher than India, at #108 and #118 respectively, it’s clear that the situation is even worse in India.

‘Happiness’ is closely linked to ‘hope’, and the feeling that even if things aren’t great today, they will get better. Instead, the generation that is most invested in the future of India, is more ‘unhappy’ than their counterparts anywhere else in the world. And that doesn’t bode well for the future. This information should set off real alarm bells, but something tells me that that’s not likely to happen.

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Finally, the 'Happiness' Disparity Between Men and Women in India

Here’s another telling nugget from the report – between 2010 and today, life evaluations or ‘happiness’ fell the most in South Asia for all age groups. What does this mean? That India, across all age groups, is more ‘unhappy’ today than it was in 2010. This may be the BJP’s cue to reject the report outrightly, but since this aspect of it has not really made any headlines, even that may not happen.

Also, why should the Happiness Report be any different for India’s women? India’s chronic gender inequality has been underlined here as well. While ‘negative emotions’ are higher for men and women in South Asia, the additional observation is that the gap between the negative emotions of women and men is the most for this region. This essentially means that not only are Indian women the most unhappy, but they are also far more unhappy than Indian men.

The report also mentions that there is no significant gender difference in the ‘happiness’ of boys and girls till the age of 10-11. But after that, girls start to report lower life satisfaction than boys, and this gap only gets wider through the teenage years.

This again exposes how our society discriminates against women from an early age, with a large number of them not really being allowed to make several of their most crucial life choices, be it about higher education, healthcare, choice of life partners, and economic independence. Clearly, India is still not a ‘happy’ place for a woman to live in.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, here, almost every Punjabi like me, has a cousin called ‘Happy’. It’s a pet name that’s assigned with the hope that it may magically alter the course of his life. But in the real world, we should know that to make India truly ‘Happy’, we will have to do a lot more.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Happiness Index 

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