Analysis: Can Happiness Be Measured On A Global Index?

Analysis: Can Happiness Be Measured On A Global Index?

Emotions and feelings can never be measured or demarcated country-wise because the human spirit is universal. Emotions are not differently felt and experienced by people of different countries

Sumit PaulUpdated: Tuesday, April 09, 2024, 08:51 PM IST
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Representative Pic | Shubham Mali/Pixabay

Man changa toh kathauti mein Ganga — A Hindi saying (If your mind is at peace, you can find the Ganga in your small bowl.)

India was ranked 126th out of 143 nations in the World Happiness Report 2024, a global happiness index which was released on Wednesday, March 20 to mark the UN’s International Day of Happiness.

India is behind Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Palestine and Niger, according to the report by a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR’s Editorial Board.

For the seventh successive year, Finland topped the list of the happiest countries in the world. The other countries in the top ten were Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Australia.

Now the question is: Can happiness be measured? “Happiness cannot be measured. It's to be felt,” wrote Hermann Hesse in his book Siddhartha. Human emotions and feelings can never be measured or demarcated country-wise because the human spirit is universal. Emotions are not differently felt and experienced by people of different countries. Having travelled across the globe and observed people of all hues and shades, I've come to the conclusion that happiness and sorrow are equally distributed. Happiness and sorrow are two sides of the same coin.

“Kahta hai jise khushi tu / Wahi gham hai kisi aur ke liye / Pahloo hain dono(n) ek hi sikke ke / Kabhi habeeb toh kabhi u'doo” (What you call happiness / Is pain to someone else / Both are two sides of the same coin / At times, friend and sometimes, foe), wrote Allama Iqbal.

“Unless there's a neurological problem, every individual is genetically capable of experiencing regular bouts of happiness and sorrow. Both are overlapping,” opined psychotherapist Alfred Adler. The problem with humans is that we always try to measure and quantify emotions and create pigeonholes and stereotypes. The Buddha opined 2,600 years ago that the whole world is unhappy. In the last century, George Orwell seconded the Buddha's cynical observation and said the same thing in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Whether both looked at the world through the same prism and opined identically is inconsequential. The point is, both didn't confine happiness or unhappiness to a country or a specific group of people.

Such surveys are bound to be lopsided and fallacious because Pakistan is placed behind India, whereas the ethos and emotional approximations of the citizens of both the countries are almost identical.

Yours truly has come across a number of unhappy souls in Finland and Scandinavian countries which are on top of the list of happiness. At the same time, I've seen innumerable blissfully happy souls in India, which is placed at 126th position. India is a country that believes in Karma Concept and Fatalism. “In India, even those resigned to their (ineluctable) fate are so happy that an outsider can't say that they're unhappy with their lot. They're the forever happy people and happier than the sages in the Himalayas and the denizens of Beverly Hill or Manhattan,” observed sociologist Meera Kosambi. Mind you, this happiness is intrinsic and not vicariously concocted.

“Mankind is a seamless family in which all emotions are playing and ebbing away in a circular way. Today, if you're happy, tomorrow you can be sullen. Day after tomorrow, you can have mixed feelings and after some time, a new surge of emotions will overwhelm us,” wrote the Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

So, measuring something as subtle as happiness according to country and place is not just erroneous, it shows the limited ambit of human intelligence. Human emotions run deep. Don't judge them at their face value.

Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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