Culture & Society

How Governments Across The World Have Taken Measures To Prioritise Happiness

Outlook looks at how countries across the world have considered the national happiness factor and institutionalised it under schemes and departments.

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People enjoying laughter yoga on World Laughter Day at Indian Museum Kolkata, on May 7, 2017 in Kolkata, India. World Laughter Day takes place on the first Sunday of May of every year. Photo: Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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The World Happiness Report, which is released to commemorate the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, has focused on “the happiness of people at different stages of life” this year. According to the World Happiness Report site, considering the seven ages of man talked about in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the later stages of life are portrayed as deeply depressing. But according to the report,  “happiness research shows a more nuanced picture, and one that is changing over time”.

The definition of the Happiness Index originates from the Bhutanese Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) where happiness over other factors such as wealth, comfort and economic growth were considered, and was identified as a goal for the government. This consistently tracked index inspired the Happiness Council, a think tank of researchers and politicians to devise their own definition of the Happiness Index, mentioned for the first time in a 2012 report. In the recently released World Happiness Report 2024, India has ranked 126th among more than 140 countries surveyed, with Finland maintaining top spot.

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An approach that has been criticised over the years raises an important question : Is happiness quantifiable? Many countries have adopted measures and instituted ministries/departments to deal with the happiness quotient and work on an overall improvement in satisfaction of life through projects, measures and curriculums. The Gallup World Poll questionnaire, on which the report is based, measures 14 areas within its core questions to determine the index which includes factors like business and economics, citizen engagement, communications and technology, diversity in social issues, emotional well-being and health among others. 

On International Happiness Day, Outlook looks at how countries across the world have politicised the factor and institutionalised it under schemes and departments.

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Bhutan

The country which inspired other countries to pursue and look into happiness through the optics of national administration, boasts of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index, which according to the official site, is a holistic approach to measure the happiness and wellbeing of the Bhutanese population. The GNH Index, also known as the GNH Happiness Survey. Works on nine domains, further supported by the 33 indicators, according to the site. Besides analysing the happiness and wellbeing of the people, the GNH shapes how policies may be designed to further create enabling conditions for the weaker scoring results of the survey.

The concept, which was ideated by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan in the early 1970 questioned the Gross Domestic Product’s (GDP) ability to alone ensure happiness and improvement for the society. Four decades later, in 2008, with Bhutan becoming a democracy and enacting the Constitution, GNH was included as a goal of the government. Article 9 of the Constitution further ensured the inclusion and continuity of GNH values by defining duties.

Venezuela 

In 2013, Venezuela was grappling with the pangs of soaring inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of a new Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness. According to a report by Financial Times, Maduro said that this new creation was aimed at taking care of the most “sublime, vulnerable and delicate, to those who are most loved by anyone who calls themselves a revolutionary, a Christian and Chavista.” The government announced it would boost food and supplies of basic goods in its imports, as it would co-ordinate the anti-poverty programmes created by the late President Hugo Chavez. The move drew flak from various sectors with critics pointing out that the move was purely political, coming six weeks before municipal elections that year.

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UAE

On 7 March 2016, H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, took to X to announce Her Excellency Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, as the country's first Minister of State for Happiness, who would oversee the UAE-specific programs and policies to achieve a happier society. She presented a program titled National Program For Happiness and Well Being which according to the UAE government website “sets government policies, programmes and services that can promote virtues of positive lifestyle in the community and a plan for the development of a happiness index to measure people's satisfaction”, covering the areas of - inclusion of happiness in the policies, programmes and services of all government bodies and at work; promotion of wellbeing and happiness as a lifestyle in the community and development of benchmarks and tools to measure happiness.

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Steps Taken In India

In 2018, under Deputy CM and Education Minister Manish Sisodia, the Delhi government launched the Happiness Curriculum, an educational program designed for children studying between nursery and eighth grade, in schools run by the Delhi government. The curriculum seeks to improve the general mental well-being of pupils, aiming to build emotional awareness, promote decision making fuelled by the same and inculcate the necessary skills and environment to become purpose-driven, and explore a nuanced idea of happiness. "The happiness curriculum is not a value education class that preaches moral values to students. Instead, it focuses on developing the mindset of the students to adopt the values in their everyday attitude and behaviour," Mr. Sisodia said, as quoted in a report by the PTI.

In 2016, former Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had announced that a ministry of happiness would be created for the state, inspired by Bhutan’s GNH, which would work towards keeping people genuinely happy, and would release a happiness index, along the lines of GNH. According to a report published last year by The Wire, the department works through the state Anand Sansthan, which completely relies on volunteers or ‘anandaks’, who work for the department, free of cost, alongside their own jobs or business. The Rajya Anand Sansthan runs several initiatives such as Anand Utsav and Anand Clubs, however many have pointed out how the work exists solely on paper and there has not been much work done on ground with its allocated budget.

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In 2017, Andhra Pradesh became the second state after MP to create a department for happiness. According to the suggestions, in 2018, it was announced that the Andhra Pradesh government would soon constitute a Happiness Commission that would work on a spate of programmes to promote “happiness” in the state. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who was supposed to head the commission had also stated that the state’s new greenfield capital at Amaravati would be planned holding happiness as a foremost governmental priority.

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