How happy are you today?

Ahead of International Day of Happiness on March 20, Anupama Chandra talks to a few people to find out how happy Indians really are

In the latest World Happiness Report (WHR), India ranked 133 out of the 156 countries surveyed {The 2018 report features the happiness score averaged over the years 2015-2017. As per the report, Finland is the happiest country in the world followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.}.

India has seen a considerable drop for it was ranked 111 in 2013. While economic well-being is deemed important in determining happiness, experts say that after side-stepping poverty while there’s an increase in the level of happiness, this levels after a point. Renowned happiness expert Daniel Gilbert believes that after meeting basic human needs, money stops having any positive effect on happiness, in fact it leads to stress instead. We spoke to three diverse adults at various stations of life to figure what happiness can mean to Mumbaikars.

 Higher GDP, More Happiness?

We asked Rajiv Gaur, CPO-Lanxess India, if he thought a higher GDP reflects higher happiness. He says, “A higher GDP reflects a strong economy, higher earning and spending, which should be a key criterion and enabler for more happiness. But in our culturally strong country where traditional, family-based approach still holds prime value, basic need fulfilment should come first.”

Anusree Dey, Founder & Designer at Flea-ed believes a higher GDP doesn’t reflect higher happiness. “I don’t deny that happiness can be increased by having more money, but the wealth generated by countries is not equally distributed among citizens. So a higher GDP doesn’t mean that the poor are getting richer or happier, it’s probably just the rich getting richer and unhappier,” she states.

“I feel happiness is very subjective, and means a different thing to different people so measuring the happiness quotient of an entire country is too complicated. However, we could look at factors like work-life balance, social security systems, infrastructure, secured jobs, social life, community participation, family structure, etc. as indicators of happiness,” she says in agreement with Gaur.

Akash Suvarna, musician, disagrees. “I don’t think they are related in anyway. I personally feel that happiness comes from within and we should spread music and love around the world to make it a happy place for all to live in harmony.” Suvarna worked in media for a decade before deciding to form his band Nirdhasta and work on original compositions and learning to build handmade guitars. He says it like he means it- “Money is not equal to happiness.”

To improve our ranking

Dey, a former senior Television Executive who recently joined the start-up bandwagon with her fashion brand, is sure that “India could do so much to increase its ranking, like providing affordable healthcare, housing, employment, social security, etc.” She adds, “Indians need a liberal society where people have the freedom to make their own life choices.”

Gaur agrees, “Improving the infrastructure in terms of jobs, roads, electricity, education and health should help. The struggle for course admissions, social equality, women safety, and the perceived inaccessibility to justice or jobs is real today. If the population perceives that these criteria are being looked into, it would lead to a higher happiness index.”

“I don’t know how the ranking system works,” states Suvarna dreamily, “but I feel we need more compassion for others, rather than exhibiting the crab mentality of pulling each other down, and that could lead to an actual rise in happiness.”

How do you keep happy?

“My basic needs and requirements are no struggle and hence I should be scoring high on the happiness index,” Gaur says with a smile. “I measure happiness by the content state of mind when one’s basic needs are fulfilled, and there’s security of food, housing, education, healthcare and jobs.”

As usual, Suvarna has a different take – “I’m not demanding; for me happiness is being with people I love, good food, an occasional bout of rum and unending music. When I’m low, I take out my bass guitar and start playing songs and all’s good. I would measure happiness with the verve a person has for their life.”

He admits, “It took several ups and downs like losing my father, heartbreak, quitting a well-paying job to follow my passion for me to understand that happiness lies within us. We just need to keep the passion burning. So my idea of happiness is being in love with what you do in life and accepting things you can’t change.”

Dey states simply, “I try to be happy today rather than wait for something good to happen tomorrow. One thing that always works is surrounding yourself with positive people who see the good in you and staying away from anything negative. My cats give me immense happiness too. I believe you’re truly happy when you don’t have to make an effort to stay happy. If you have to deliberately seek happiness then something needs work.”

“To me happiness means feeling peaceful and pure bliss, which I get when I am doing my own thing such as re-reading my favourite books, listening to my favourite music on loop, or revisiting a place that I love.”

She sums up, “Although you can’t feel eternal bliss always, as long as you can disassociate yourself from misery and emerge wiser and stronger, you’re alright. Emotional well being is an important way to measure happiness, other than good social interactions and satisfaction with life.”

The National Happiness Index measured by the WHR surveys facts such as access to housing, clean potable water, food, education and jobs. It also assesses parameters such as environmental concerns, transportation, law and safety, fair government, citizen engagement and diversity.

Box 2: Can money really buy happiness?

Apparently, to an extent — yes. If you use money to

  • Buy many small pleasures, like an ice cream treat on a sweltering day, instead of few big ones, like diamond jewellery purchases
  • Help others (charity) instead of only yourself
  • Buy experiences (a long cherished trip) instead of things
  • Pay ahead for purchase that you consume later or over an extended period of time such as education (what is called delayed gratification)

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