FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 04

How happy is the world?

The ultimate goal of all economic planning and GDP growth is the maximization of human happiness. But what is the relationship between economic progress and happiness? In various ages, scholars have tried to measure what constitutes happiness and how it can be promoted for individuals and groups.

The United Nations recently released its annual World Happiness Report, which included a list of the world’s top 10 “Happiest Countries.” This is the 7th World Happiness Report. The first was released in April 2012 in support of a UN High level meeting on “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm”.

The idea was to assess the quality of people’s lives coherently through a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to as “happiness.” Each annual report includes updated evaluations on special topics delving into the science of well-being, and on happiness in specific countries and regions. Often there is a central theme. This year the focus is on happiness and community: how happiness has been changing over the past dozen years, and how information technology, governance and social norms influence communities. The world is a rapidly changing place. Among the fastest changing aspects are those relating to how people communicate and interact with each other.

It may be added here that the last year’s report studied migration as one important source of global change, finding that each country’s life circumstances, including the social context and political institutions were such important sources of happiness that the international ranking of migrant happiness was almost identical to that of the native born.

This year’s report includes usual country rankings of life evaluations, and traces the evolution since 2005 of life evaluations, positive affect, negative affect and some of the main forces that influence happiness by changing the ways in which communities and their members interact with each other.

The following are some of the factors that contribute to a country making the list: whether people living there have strong social support (robust communities); whether citizens trust their government; and whether they live in freedom.

The Happiness Report contains rankings of national happiness based on respondent ratings of their own lives, which the report also correlates with various life factors such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, trust or absence of corruption in government and business.

As of March 2019, Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world for the second time in a row. The Nordic nations topped the 2019 World Happiness Report, which ranked 156 countries around the world. Finland’s Nordic neighbours Denmark, Norway and Iceland weren’t far behind, taking second, third and fourth places, respectively. The Nordic countries have dominated the index since its inception in 2012, while Central African states still rank at the bottom.

In South East Asia, India’s ranking dropped to 133 versus 122 last year and at an average of 118 in the period 2013 to 2015. Bangladesh ranked 115 against 110 last year. Iran ranked 106 versus 108 last year. Bhutan remained steady at 97 and Nepal at 101 vs 96 last year, Sri Lanka ranked 116 vs 120 last year, Afghanistan at 145 vs 141 last year and at an average 154 during 2013-15. Turkey’s rating dropped to 74 from 69 of last year. China’s ranking is 86.

Pakistan is ranked at 75. For the last couple of years, it is being ranked as the happiest nation in South East Asia. Its ranking was 80 last year. On an average, it has ranked 92 in the 2013-15 period.

The top ranking of the Nordic nations is easily explained. Their governance system of blending democracy, socialism and capitalism and its strict compliance has proved to be the best state governance system which has withstood the test of time. The Nordic governance system is based on a workable undertaking between the state and its citizens. The citizens must diligently pay taxes, whereas the state guarantees to meet the needs of all its citizens from birth to death which includes education, housing, food security, healthcare and liberal retirement benefits. Freedom to live as one likes and equality for all citizens is the high point of these Nordic nations where a Prime Minister often travels to his office on a cycle and shops his groceries in supermarkets as a normal citizen.

Central African states continue to suffer from extreme poverty and hunger. African states are rich in natural resources but are deprived of a workable governance system. India’s ranking in happiness is on a declining trend despite its remarkable GDP growth. This growth has not percolated to the poor sections of the population.

Pakistan’s good happiness ranking is based on its strong philanthropy culture. The Edhi Foundation is a shining example. It is one of the most well-organised social welfare service providers across the world running on a non-commercial, non-political, and non-communal basis, serving round-the-clock without any discrimination of color, class, and creed. But what Pakistan lacks is a corrupt and weak governance structure. If this problem is taken care of, Pakistan’s position in the happiness scale will rise further.