WHEN Bhutan introduced the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ a few years ago the cynics smirked and the others nodded in approval. Can there be anything ‘gross’ about happiness? Can it be measured? These were the natural questions. Well, may be not, but on the whole well being of the people can be gauged. Not from the rate of growth of income or the purchasing power of the individual but from the feeling one gets while ploughing through one’s daily rigmarole. If you have more things to smile about today than, say two years ago.
In the book The Politics of Happiness Derek Bok explores the way in which the governments can incorporate the happiness factor in their planning and policy making. The ultimate aims of which would be to increase the over-all well-being of the people and improve their quality of life. There is a point to note for us here, a recent survey had indicated that Indians are way below in world ranking in quality of life. We come 78th.
Derek Bok says that after 35 years of research into ‘happiness’ the researchers have been able to come up with some ways by which the governments and policymakers can alter the plans to give maximum benefit to the people. He has said in the research that it is not the monetary concern alone that gives happiness. In which case he says the countries that grew fastest should be the happiest, but it is not so. Though the book is America-centric, most of which he has said is applicable to all societies.
Bhutan has recognised four pillars for calculating the Gross National Happiness. They are: Good governance and democratisation, stable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental protection and preservation of culture. Not that all is well in Bhutan now. In fact, there have been reports of human rights violations in the name of preservation of culture.
In one of the chapters ‘What to do about inequality?’ the book discusses how the income inequalities are wide and getting wider in America. “From 1973 to 2000, the most affluent 20 per cent Americans increased their income by 61.6 per cent, six times faster than the poorest 20 per cent (10.3 per cent). By the end of the century, the richest 1 per cent claimed a share of the national income not equaled since the 1920s.” He goes on to add that public health experts have “argued forcefully that added income inequality in America has widened differences in longevity between rich and poor. They also claim that states with greater inequalities of income tend to have larger differences in longevity than states with a more equal income distribution.”
So exactly does this research on happiness help? The researches have proved that beyond the materialistic comforts, happiness comes from family bonding and social relations. The author says the prevailing culture in America accentuates the misimpressions among people that they would be happy if they added to their life comforts. “A vast barrage of commercial advertising reinforces the continuing desire for more goods and services by emphasizing the immediate enjoyment they will bring.”
Since the businesses and corporate have a hold and influence in the power circles, the governments tend to back and pass those legislations and draw such policies that help this group. Factors that contribute to sustained happiness like education, health and issues like marriages and child-rearing are ignored in policies.
A book policymakers and people in governance should read. So that there can be more happiness all around.
(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)