Happiness and World Happiness Report

By 1995, economies around the world had officially accepted the concept of human development propounded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It is used by World Bank since the 1990s to quantify the developmental efforts of the member countries and cheap developmental funds were allocated in accordance.

For many years, experts and scholars came up with their own versions of defining development. They gave unequal weightage to the determinants defining development, as well as selected some completely different parameters. Most of such attempts were not prescriptions for an alternative development index, but they were basically trying to show the incompleteness of the Human Development Index, via intellectual satires. In 1999, Bangladesh was the most developed country in the world with the USA, Norway, Sweden getting the lowest ranks in the index.

HDI which calculates the development of economies on certain parameters might be overlooking many other important factors such as

  1. cultural aspects of the economy,
  2. outlook towards aesthetics and purity of the environment
  3. aspects related to the rule and administration in the economy
  4. people’s idea of happiness and prestige
  5. the ethical dimension of human life, etc.

Introspecting Development

Most of the studies concluded that life in the developed world is anything but happy. Crime, corruption, burglaries, extortion, drug trafficking, flesh trade, rape, homicide, moral degradation, sexual perversion, etc.—all kinds of the so-called vices—were thriving in the developed world. It means development had failed to deliver them happiness, peace of mind, a general well- being and a feeling of being in a good state.

Social scientists, somehow have been using terms such as progress, growth, development, well-being, welfare as synonyms of ‘happiness’. Happiness is a normative concept as well as a state of mind. Therefore, its idea might vary from one economy to the other.

Gross National Happiness

Bhutan has been following the GNH since 1972 which has the following parameters to attain happiness/ development:

  1. Higher real per capita income
  2. Good governance
  3. Environmental protection
  4. Cultural promotion (i.e., inculcation of ethical and spiritual values in life without which, it says, progress may become a curse rather than a blessing)

An impartial analysis sufficiently suggests that material achievements are unable to deliver us happiness devoid of some ethics at its base. And ethics are rooted in the religious and spiritual texts.  But the new world is guided by its own scientific and secular interpretation of life and the world has always been suspicious about recognizing the spiritual factor in human life.


Sustainable Development Solution Network (a UN body) publishes World Happiness report which measures happiness and well-being of the nations to help guide public policy on the basis of the following six parameters:

  1. GDP per capita (at PPP)
  2. Social support (someone to count on)
  3. Healthy life expectancy at birth
  4. Freedom to make life choices
  5. Generosity
  6. Perception of corruption

Major highlights of the WHR 2018 are as given below:

  • Finland is happiest while Burundi is the unhappiest country on the planet.
  • India is ranked 133rd in 156 nations while Pakistan is at 75th.
  • Finland has got several accolades from the report as—the most stable, the safest, and best-governed country in the world together with being the least corrupt and the most socially progressive, and the happiest immigrants. Its police are the world’s most trusted and its banks the soundest.
  • As per the report, USA(18) its happiness is being systematically undermined by three
    inter-related epidemic diseases—obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction), and depression.
  • The greatest human migration in history—the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities—has not advanced happiness at all.

The Meaning of Happiness

Happiness is an aspiration of every human being, and can also be a measure of social progress. Yet,

happiness is used in at least two ways :

  1. As an emotion [‘Were you happy yesterday?’], and
  2. As an evaluation [‘Are you happy with your life as a whole?’].

WHRs did show that the respondents of the surveys clearly recognize the difference between happiness as an emotion and happiness in the sense of life satisfaction.

The report presents data for the world showing the levels, explanations, changes, and equality of happiness. The world has become a slightly happier and more generous place over the past five years, despite the obvious detrimental happiness impacts of the financial crisis (2007– 08), as per the report.

The HDR Linkage

The WHR 2013 investigated the conceptual and empirical relationships between ‘human development’ (the UNDP idea used in the Human Development Report) and ‘life evaluation’ approaches to understanding human progress. It argues that both approaches were, at least in part, motivated by a desire to consider progress and development in ways that went beyond the mere comparison of GDPs and to put people at the center.

The Background

In July 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution. It invited member countries
to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies. On
April 2012 by the first UN high-level meeting on happiness and well-being, chaired by the Prime Minister of Bhutan. At the same time, the first World Happiness Report was published.

Re-imagining idea of Happiness

To understand the ‘shift’ which is expected to take place among policymakers around the world in coming years, it will be better to lift some ideas from the first WHR:

This is an age of stark contradictions. While at the one hand the world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication, on the other hand, at least one billion people are living without enough to eat. yet it is relentlessly destroying the natural environment in the process.

self-reported happiness of the citizenry with the following serious ‘concerns’ of today (WHR 2012):

  • uncertainties and anxieties are high
  • social and economic inequalities have widened considerably
  • social trust is in decline
  • confidence in government is at an all-time low

If we continue mindlessly along the current economic trajectory, we risk undermining the Earth’s life support systems—food supplies, clean water, and stable climate—necessary for human health and even survival in some places.

In an impoverished society, the urge for material gain typically makes a lot of sense. Higher household income (or higher per capita GNP) generally signifies an improvement in the living conditions of the poor.

Higher average incomes do not necessarily improve average well-being, GNP per capita of the USA has risen by a factor of three since 1960, while measures of average happiness have remained essentially unchanged over the half-century.

Society did not become happier as it became richer. This is due to four reasons:

  • Individuals compare themselves to others. They are happier when they are higher on the social (or income) ladder. Yet when everybody rises together, the relative status remains unchanged.
  • The gains have not been evenly shared
  • insecurity, loss of social trust, declining confidence in government
  • Individuals may experience an initial jump in happiness when their income rises, but then at least partly return to earlier levels as they adapt to their new higher-income

higher income may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for higher-income may actually reduce one’s happiness. Psychologists have found repeatedly that individuals who put a high premium on higher incomes generally are less happy and more vulnerable to other psychological ills than individuals who do not crave higher incomes.

The thinking of becoming happier by becoming richer is challenged by the law of diminishing marginal utility of income — after a certain point, the gains are very small. This means that poor people benefit far more than rich people from an added dollar of income.

Suppose that a poor household at Rs. 1,000 income requires an extra Rs. 100 to raise its life satisfaction level (or happiness) by one notch. A rich household at Rs. 1,000,000 income (one thousand times as much as the poor household) would need one thousand times more money, or Rs. 100,000, to raise its well-being by the same one notch. Gains

At the End

Yet most people probably believe that happiness is in the eye of the beholder, an individual’s choice, something to be pursued individually rather than as a matter of national policy. Happiness seems far too subjective, too vague, to serve as a touchstone for a nation’s goals, much less its policy content. That indeed has been the traditional view.

The WHR 2012 summarizes the fascinating and emerging story of these studies on two broad measurements of happiness:

  1. the ups and downs of daily emotions and
  2. an individual’s overall evaluation of life

The former is sometimes called ‘affective happiness,’ and the latter ‘evaluative happiness’.

Affective happiness captures the day-to-day joy of friendship, time with family and sex, or the downsides of long work commutes and sessions with one’s boss. Evaluative happiness measures very different dimensions of life, those that lead to overall satisfaction or frustration with one’s place in society.

A household’s income counts for life satisfaction, but only in a limited way—other things matter more:

  1. community trust,
  2. mental and physical health, and
  3. the quality of governance and rule of law.

happiness traps’ such as in the USA in recent decades, where GNP may rise relentlessly while life satisfaction stagnates or even declines.

Parikshit Patil

Parikshit Patil

Currently working as Software Engineer at Siemens Industry Software Pvt. Ltd. Certified AWS Certified Sysops Administrator - Associate.
Kavathe-Ekand, MH India