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India and Happiness

Al-Etihad, UAE, April 4

The World Happiness Report, published to coincide with United Nations Happiness Day, notes that India has become less happy over the past year. India’s ranking fell by seven points, from 140 in 2018 to 133 in 2019. The past decade, the average level of happiness has fallen about 1.2 points per year, although no major event has been likely to have an impact on people’s happiness. Even neighboring Pakistan, which has been plagued by a series of problems, including an economic crisis, has achieved a much better position than India in terms of happiness (Pakistan is ranked 67th, indicating that people in Pakistan are undoubtedly happier than they are in India). Economic growth in India has provided greater prosperity and has driven more people out of poverty. But this wealth did not translate into happiness. This clearly means that happiness does not directly depend on wealth. One of the reasons for the decline in happiness in India may be that the disparity between the rich and the poor has only increased amid economic growth. Those who continue to suffer from poverty are increasing their ambitions, however, with the emergence of social networking sites, mobile phones and the Internet, which enable them to see what others’ lives look like. Furthermore, while the Indian economy has grown, this growth has been highly asymmetrical across different industries. Some 11 million Indians lost their jobs in 2018, according to a report by the Indian Economic Monitoring Center. An analytical report showed that individuals belonging to vulnerable groups were the hardest hit by job losses in 2018. Data show clearly that unemployment has steadily increased in India. Similarly, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of Indians are unhappy about lack of jobs and 73 percent are unhappy about rising prices. To make matters worse, the advent of artificial intelligence will likely enable computers to replace many unskilled Indian workers, thus further exacerbating the problem. These are all key factors that can help to reduce the feeling of happiness in a country of 1.25 billion people. Other factors include the lack of adequate housing, making not only the poor but also the middle classes less happy. The report comes at a time when India is holding a general election in stages over two months. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking another term. Modi is still a popular leader but faces challenges from the National Congress Party and a range of regional parties seeking to return to power. The prime minister himself promised millions of jobs for young people, but that promise never materialized. It would be interesting to see how the impact of diminished happiness will influence the way people vote. – Zaker al-Rahman