Happiness is a state of mind

The World Happiness Report 2023 was published a few weeks ago, and I was as surprised to read it this time as I have over the past couple of years. My surprise stemmed from the fact that the world’s most amazing country—India, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention—is currently positioned at 126 out of 146 countries. How was this possible, I asked myself, looking up to see nothing but smiling faces all around. I couldn’t recall the last time I saw an Indian person without a smile on his or her face, so this made no sense at all. Still, with my commitment to research, I read on.

We have a Happiness score of 4.036, apparently, classifying our beloved nation as one of the world’s least joyful. More surprisingly, we rank lower than our neighbours Bangladesh, Nepal and China. I almost threw the report away in disgust at that point, because it was obvious that the whole thing was fictional.

My instinct was to dismiss it as propaganda when I found out that it was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative of the United Nations. Most Indians know that the UN has been biased towards India since around 2014. It was biased even before that year, of course, but we just hadn’t noticed because we were too busy trying to survive without food, water, electricity, healthcare and basic infrastructure, all of which came to our country only in 2014. It’s also possible that none of us noticed the report because we didn’t have the tools. Only a few hundred Indians could read or write before 2014, which is when our first colleges and universities began to come up, so this con job could have been going on for years. So, naturally, I rubbished the report.

Out of perverse curiosity, I examined the reasons for this low score. I found that the drop in our happiness levels was attributed to what the publishers called an ‘escalating mental health crisis’, supposedly exacerbated by challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reader, I am not ashamed to admit that I laughed out loud, because the words ‘mental health crisis’ have never appeared in India before. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we have the most robust mental health on the planet, and everyone knows we had no issues tackling the pandemic. No one died, there were no shortages of hospital beds or oxygen cylinders, and the sudden shutdowns imposed upon millions of us were met with good cheer and applause. If anything, I would argue that the pandemic made us a happier nation than we already were.

There were other red flags. Apparently, the report cites experts from various fields such as psychology, economics, survey analysis and national statistics, all of whom discuss how ‘well-being measurements’ can be used to gauge a nation’s progress. This upset me because everyone knows experts aren’t qualified to talk about India unless they come from India and are certified by the government of India. Experts who aren’t trained in elite institutions such as the University of Gujarat, and do not graduate with elite degrees such as a Master’s in Entire Political Science, shouldn’t be allowed to comment on anything to do with what happens in India.

I tried flipping the script and looked at what the report had to say about the world’s happiest countries. It listed a few common themes, such as work-life balance, a strong connection to nature, equality, strong social support, freedom, and trust. That was when I definitively knew the report deserved to be junked. Consider my counterarguments: India doesn’t struggle with work-life balance because few of us have access to good jobs, which means a majority of us are dealing with a ‘life-life balance’. India has a stronger connection to nature than any other country because we hand-pick only one or two corporations from Gujarat and task them with protecting our forests and land. I don’t want to comment on equality because everyone knows that rare instances of inequality crop up only when it comes to minorities, Dalits, farmers, students and women.

Finally, freedom and trust: we have freedom coming out of our ears and trust our government with our lives. If we didn’t, we would be abandoning our principles of democracy and teetering towards fascism, wouldn’t we? We are happier than we have ever been, and I hope the government soon publishes its own report to prove this.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira 

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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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