Saturday, June 27, 2009

Human and Happiness Indices-Some Thoughts

(A long time since my last blog. My classes are taking away a significant amount of time but I really enjoy those. Some recent events have instigated me to comment on two indices that have confused social and financial scientists the world over). The first is the Human Development Index ( HDI) and the second is the Happiness Index ( HI). For those who are not that familiar with HDI- It is the score of a section of the population ( mostly nation based) that considers various factors like the (GDP) per capita income, the level of unemployment, literacy and educational attainment. The nations are then ranked based on their respective scores. To give some hindsight into the 2008 rankings, Iceland was the # 1 pushing Norway onto the # 2 position. The United States is at # 15, not too bad considering the relative size it has, Canada at # 3, India unsurprisingly at # 132 and Bhutan at # 131 ( These statistics are annually compiled by the UNDP and have been met with euphoria and skepticism. The basic objective , it may seem, is to classify countries as developed, developing and underdeveloped. Some people might be curious as to why Iceland is 14 ranks ahead of the United States. This could be attributed partly to the country's low size and population. The African countries , plagued by internal strifes, high levels of illiteracy and abject poverty are lower down the order.
The second index ( arguably no so popular one) is the Human Happiness Index ( HHI). Accrording to the 2006 statistics, Denmark tops the list with U.S at a reasonable 23 and India at 125 ( While this is a highly subjective measure, there seems to be quite a bit of correlation between the HDI and HHI. But there is no 100% positive correlation. Why is this? Most of us work hard to maximize our wealth. Most of us believe that wealth translates directly to happiness. Statistics show that people are reasonably happy when they earn a moderate income ( I mean less than $ 150,000 a year). Increased income after that level does not result in any increase in happiness. To me, the rationale is simple. The higher you go ( be it the corporate world, the murky world of poilitics or entrepreneurship), it is increasingly difficult to balance your personal and professional priorities. We all know that this is the very key to a happy and prosperous life. The hardest part in a man's ( woman's) life is to decide and draw the limits. Peer pressure is a difficult one to handle.
Whilst we all believe that one of the purposes in life is to garner more and more wealth , we all should take a break and ponder as to what we would really like to achieve. Assuming we live upto 75 years of age and assuming that we have earned a million + dollars savings for our families and assuming that they are happy with our contribution, is this really what you strived so hard for. Maybe, maybe not. I would think that unless we create an atmosphere of distribution of wealth , we have not done anything meaningful to the society. At our deathbeds, we may not be too concerned about the extra dollars in hand ( if we have a reasonable amount of savings). Instead, we might be thinking about our purpose in life and whether we have done full justice to these. Now, distribution of wealth is not blindly giving away large sums of money . That would defeat the whole purpose. As one my teachers, the late Fr. Puilckal in my high school said, charity is to " help someone to help themselves". There are certainly people who are not in positions to help themselves. We should be more considerate to these people. If we are in a position to create job opportunities to deserving people, if we are in a position to help send the poorest of the poor children to schools, if we are in a position to play our part to uplift the society ( of which our family is a part), then do so- for that is the best thing you can do for one's country and for humanity.
In my mind, India is already a superpower. A country that is spiritually and culturally superior than most nations of the world. A country that is beset with many economic and social problems, but which has the raw talent and potential to tackle all this effectively. To me , the notion of a superpower is 50% culture + 50% materialism. Others may feel it differently. Based on that, India scores 75%. Some other countries that are materially well off get scores less than 75. While we increase our scores for materialsm , we should not forget our cultural roots and our rich heritage. I would rather prefer my country to be only 70% as developed as the first world countries but can still boast of superior cultural and moral standards.
Recently, the monarch of Bhutan ( a reformer and a a great patriot) shifted his nation's goals from Human development index to Human happiness index. Though Bhutan ranks no.131 in HDI, the tiny Himalayan kingdom has its task cut out to reach the top rankings due to its low population. But the monarch chose happiness as the criteria for success. He believes that the goal in a man's life is to achieve happiness. And believe me the people in this nation are said to lead relatively stress-free lives. Perhaps India should take a cue from its tiny neighbor and implement some of their policies.

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