Why India’s ranking on Happiness Index has been falling

Learning from Happiest nations like Finland and Bhutan can improve the position

Samarth Jain | June 9, 2021


#Finland   #India   #education   #happiness   #economy   #World Happiness Report   #Bhutan  


The World Happiness Report, one of the best tools for evaluating global happiness, is based on how ecstatic people perceive themselves to be. It considers six characteristics to rank countries on overall happiness: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity, and perception of corruption.

> See the latest World Happiness Report here:
https://happiness-report.s3.amazonaws.com/2021/WHR+21.pdf

Where does India stand?
The Happiness Index of the World Happiness Report (WHR) indicates that India's rank has deteriorated over the years. Starting with rank 111 in 2013, it has consistently been going down and was a dismal 139 in the 2021 report – a dip of 25%. This decline has happened irrespective of successive governments and apparent economic progress, and India being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in the last several years.

India's rank in GDP per capita has remained low at 102 and hardly changed despite a high GDP growth rate in the last four, pre-Covid years of 6%-8%. This decrease seems to indicate that even though GDP increased, the increase in population nulled it out.

Similarly, there has been only a marginal improvement in India's rank (2021 rank: 104) for Healthy Life Expectancy despite being a pharma capital of the world, growing medical tourism or an overall increase in healthcare facilities in the country.

India has shown notable improvement in its ranking for intangible criteria like Generosity and Freedom to make choices. Interestingly, amidst all the talk about freedom of speech, India consistently improved its ranking from 56 in 2018 to 37 in 2021. However, the long-lasting problem of corruption is there, and the perception of corruption has only increased. The Happiness Index also considers positive and negative effects: positive effect measured in happiness, laugh and enjoyment, whereas negative effect measured in worry, sadness and anger. On both these factors, India's ranking has slipped. (Refer Table 1)

TABLE 1

 

WHR Report India Ranking 2021 2020 2019 2018
Ranking of Happiness 139 144 140 133
Happiness score 3.82 3.57 4.02 4.19
Natural Log of GDP Per Capita 102 102 103 103
Social Support 141 145 142 144
Healthy Life Expectancy 104 104 105 107
Freedom to make life choice 31 37 41 56
Generosity 44 49 65 84
Ranking of Positive Effect 102 100 93 NA
Ranking of Negative Effect (reversed*) 14 17 41 NA
Perception of Corruption (reversed*) 75 79 76 84
Source: WHR 2018-2021



Comparison with other countries
One may argue that India is still a developing country, and it will be unfair to compare with the western nations. However, comparison with neighbouring countries reveals a shocking reality. India has the lowest happiness score among the neighbourhood: Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are ahead of it. It has a lower rank for social support (meaning having someone to count on during times of trouble) than most of its neighbours. On criteria such as generosity and perception of corruption, it sits in the middle. In freedom to make choices, India fares much better than its neighbours except Bangladesh, which is at 26 vs India at 31 in WHR 2021 report. In terms of intangible criteria such as happiness, laughter and enjoyment, India is better than most neighbouring countries. However, in terms of sadness, worry and anger, it stands at the worst footing. These results indicate that people are generally more negative in India and that India represents a diverse group of people. (Refer Table 2)

In the last eight years, India lost 28 spots in the Happiness Ranking, whereas some of its neighbours like Nepal improved by 48 places, Sri Lanka by 8 and Bangladesh by 7. Pakistan is 34 spots higher than India in WHR 2021. The gap was much more significant in WHR 2020, with Pakistan being 78 spots ahead of India. (Refer Table 2)

TABLE 2

 

WHR Report (2021) India Pakistan Bangladesh Nepal Sri Lanka
Ranking of Happiness 139 105 101 87 129
Happiness score 3.82 4.93 5.03 5.27 4.33
Natural Log of GDP Per Capita 102 111 112 117 76
Social Support 141 133 126 105 80
Healthy Life Expectancy 104 113 88 93 61
Freedom to make life choice 31 108 39 83 59
Generosity 44 49 102 38 36
Ranking of Positive Effect 102 132 138 139 21
Ranking of Negative Effect (reversed*) 14 15 39 32 59
Perception of Corruption (reversed*) 75 71 102 91 28
Source: WHR 2021



Another neighbouring country not covered in the 2021 WHR is Bhutan, which continues to be an inspiration to the entire world and, in fact, inspired the World Happiness Report to come into being. Bhutan's explicit use of the ‘Gross national happiness’ measure and how it influenced the country to avoid even a single Covid death in 2020 is something for every country, particularly India, to learn from.

Among the BRICS nations, India is ranked the lowest on the happiest index and this actually is disheartening. (Table 3)

TABLE 3

 

Country Happiness Score Rank
Brazil 6.33 35
Russia 5.477 76
India 3.82 139
China 5.339 84
South Africa 4.956 103
Source: WHR 2021



What does it mean?
Even though India has been one of the fastest developing countries, the happiness score has worsened year by year. Amid the pandemic, happiness has become more elusive than ever. Covid has also taught us how to value immaterial aspects more than anything and the true purpose of a country. These findings suggest that the country needs to focus on intangible aspects and happiness during these challenging times.

How to be happy
Finland and Bhutan, amongst the happiest the countries, have adopted various strategies to reach where they are today. Finland, for example, has invested in its education system. India needs to learn from such trends and rethink its strategy to become one of the happiest and the fastest economies globally.

Samarth Jain is a 12th grade commerce student in Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Gurgaon and takes keen interest in the field of economics and finance.

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