Road to Happiness

Dwaipayan Bora
Sunday, October 23, 2016

There is a popular saying – “Dance like nobody's watching/Love like you've never been hurt/Sing like nobody's listening/Live like it's heaven on earth" - which seems to be the quintessence of all-encompassing happiness – undoubtedly the most desirable thing in life. But different people attach different meanings to happiness. For some it is “To love and be loved” while for some others it may be “To live each day to the full” or “To express oneself” or “To smile”. We are unsure how this very important desire can be fulfilled. A Japanese new technology company, Softbank goes a step further and declares that through Information Revolution in a right way they want to bring happiness to humanity. Hence the complexity attached to the meaning of happiness finds another dimension. Any psychologist or for that matter any life guru will however state that happiness is a state of mind; and rather it being external to oneself is very much an internal subject. Thus one cannot find happiness searching for it outside, as it is within you.

Harvard Medical School is conducting the Grant Study continuously for the last 75-years on 268 white male students of American nationality from the classes of 1939–1944 and continue to study them till today. The goal of this study was to identify predictors of healthy ageing. It is the only one of its kind study not just because of the long period of time, but because the subjects allowed researchers to present their lives in a three-dimensional way, filled with statistics and anecdotes about the human experience. In the 1970s, the study teamed with a similar one that was following a group of white young men from Boston since the 1940s allowing them to contrast social status and upbringings. Every two years the men were evaluated through questionnaires, information from their doctors, and by personal interviews. Information was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience and marital quality. It was observed that the happiest and healthiest participants in both groups were the ones who maintained close, intimate relationships. The main conclusion is that Happiness is love or “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier”. "Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on 'life satisfaction'". The commercial projection of a good life – wealth, fame, career success – doesn’t bring health or happiness. It’s the work one put into maintaining connections with other human beings that does. Casual relationships however, like the ones forged on social media doesn’t.

Having understood the meaning of happiness at the individual level, it is necessary to know how the state can contribute towards making its citizens happy. Our neighbouring Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a pioneer in the field of measuring happiness of their people and utilizing it in framing their public policies. Since 1971, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) based on equitable spiritual, physical, social, cultural and environmental health of its citizens and through promotion of good governance. In July 2011, the UN General Assembly took a resolution proposed by its Prime Minister, inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies. Now happiness is increasingly considered a proper measure of social progress and a goal of public policy. An increasing number of national and local governments use happiness data and research in their search for policies that could enable people to live better lives. Five countries—Bhutan, Ecuador, Scotland, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela—now have appointed ministers of happiness charged with promoting it as a goal of public policy. The UAE through its National Agenda wants “… to be the happiest of all nations”. Launching the Dubai Plan 2021 in December 2014, its ruler said, “The first objective for the Dubai Plan 2021 is achieving people’s happiness”. This plan developed after extensive consultations involving civil society, the private and the public sectors covers six themes “that describe the vision for Dubai: a city of happy, creative and empowered people; an inclusive and cohesive society; the preferred place to live, work and visit; a smart and sustainable city; a pivotal hub in the global economy; and a pioneering and excellent government”.

The World Happiness Report prepared by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute of Columbia University from 2012, uses six factors to measure Happiness index of nations. These are GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support (as measured by having someone to count on, in times of trouble), trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (as measured by recent donations, adjusted for differences in income). It observes that of all factors, differences in social support, incomes and healthy life expectancy are the most important. It concludes that it is not by money alone, but happiness can be achieved also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health.

All measures of well-being, including emotions and life evaluations, are strongly influenced by the quality of surrounding social norms and institutions. These include family and friendships at the individual level, the presence of trust and empathy at the neighborhood and community levels, and power and quality of the social norms that determine the quality of life. When these social factors are well-rooted and readily available, communities and nations are more resilient and hence are happier. The design of policies and their delivery remains a key national challenge. Policies should enrich the social fabric, and teach the power of empathy to current and future generations. The 2016 survey showed that three countries in particular, Ireland, Iceland and Japan, were able to maintain their happiness levels despite external shocks such as the post-2007 economic crisis and the 2011 earthquake because of social support and solidarity.

Thus the road to happiness and the milestones to measure it has been firmly laid. It is now a well-considered view that happiness is directly influenced by an individual’s family, his community and his relationships with those. As individuals and governments we need to focus on the small things that strengthen these connections. This is the learning that we have to quickly embrace to be a happy society.

Dwaipayan Bora is an engineer working in Kuwait Oil Company. As a freelance writer he contributes to various newspapers, magazines and websites.

Express your comment on this article

Posted on Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Very nice article.

Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2016

nice article. keep on writing.

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