Post Mortem

Happiness: An outcome of money acquisition or beyond

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 11/25/2021 1:50:16 PM IST

 Happiness as a term and a vocabulary is often used by all – the rich and the poor, irrespective of nationality, gender, creed, color, class or caste. There have been a number of definitions and notions on ‘happiness’ available in the literary world. Over the years, ethicists, philosophers, theologians and others have delved into the meaning and content of ‘happiness’ from diverse vantage points. And yet, the conception of ‘happiness’ keep changing as the templates radically and drastically shifts and thus warrants more clarity as the world we live progresses.

Notions on ‘happiness’ though available in plenty, however there are two perspectives seem to be clashing with each other – material and beyond-material. From an economic perspective, Ruchir Sharma comprehensively argues in his article appeared in the Times of India dated 11th of November, 2021, that how money as means to happiness leverages which the US Congress recently joined a growing list of world leaders pushing to supplement GDP with a broader measure of human progress. In line with it, Simon Kuznets, the Nobel Laureate who invented the precursor to GDP to quantify US losses during the Great Depression.

Substantiating further, he cites Kuznets who pushed for a higher standard moving beyond the crude tallying of goods bought and sold hardly reflected the well-being of people. In `1968, US Senator Robert Kennedy said gross output measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile”, including the health, education and welfare of children. These aspects add more value, while quantifying and qualifying Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, researchers have been proposing alternatives from Gross National Happiness to the Well-Being Index.

Using examples such as Malaysian Fuzzy Quality of Life Index, and India’s Green GDP, more specifically, the US legislators keep promoting the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which contends alongside the Better Life Index (BLI) mooted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  Nonetheless, GDP is the most commonly used measure for the size of an economy, growth and development. GDP can be compiled for a country, or region or for several countries combined together. As the contours of indicators to measure GDP keep changing, currently the contender is the Better Life Index (BLI) endorsed by OECD.

For decades there have been attempt to replace or modify GDP in tune to the changing social and environmental factors or the combination of both or disagreeing on some aspects of it so that new ways of measuring it. There are a few who are opposed to measuring GDP because it takes the sum total of the gross domestic product that obscures the per capita income of a person, which is why they want measuring GDP per person or aggregating the average income per person. Measuring GDP per person or average portrays and thus reflects on a few social welfare indicators by showing how a particular section (s) of population have progressed in socio-economic facets.

It is assumed generally that the wealthier nations with higher per capita GDP have higher life expectancy and relatively better equivalence of social support leading to lower infant mortality, poverty ratios, pollution and corruption. Based on these parameters many believe that richer countries that enjoy higher levels of per capita income countries tend to be happier. For instance, the recent World Happiness Report ranks just one country with per capita GDP under $15,000 (Costa Rica) in the top 25. None with per capita GDP over $15,000 in the bottom 70. The rationale being happiness survey look into any country that enjoins per capita GDP. 

Those developing countries with higher per capita income are now following suit as prescribed by the UN’s multidimensional poverty index, which includes quality of life measures such as access to drinking water; a solid roof overhead and basic assets like a bicycle. So, the growth paradigm is now an accepted nomenclature of the world that underlines liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG). India is a classic example that seem to have reduced  poverty-stricken communities; infant mortality rates; brought down significantly the number of people living in severe multi-dimensional socio-economic aspects as per the UN reports.

Despite its progress in the multidimensional factors, India has been sliding down in its happiness rankings and presently stand in the 139th position out of 140 countries. In addition, India’s per capita GDP is around $2000 which adds to rising concern over inequality and corruption. Do all these factors lead to less happiness? As we see the facts and figures and the data subscribing to these. The data shows that higher the income higher is the happiness. So, the higher income countries such as Swiss and Norwegians are happier than the less rich Germans and French. This is the schema that the current policy makers view.

However, there are some who go beyond money and materialistic yardsticks and considerations such GNP, GDP, per capita income and host of others. There are many more aspects to life and living, and so measuring humans should not be solely on materialistic means. Nevertheless, in a world we live is now dictated by materialistic values that asks for more and more acquisition. Wants are unlimited and human nature is pushed towards meeting those wants. Materiality has taken over the ethos and now humans are driven by Mammon – materiality of the world.

The driving force of our world now is sheer mass production and mass consumption. The desire to produce unlimited goods is being propelled by an ideology of materialism vis-à-vis ‘unlimited wants’. Humans have to fight against this greed of acquisition to satiate the ‘unlimited wants’, which is insatiable. An ideal example is Bhutan, though poor, in terms of happiness it stands apart.  And so, happiness is not that determined by money alone. Money plays some part just a portion in augmenting happiness and certainly there are other things that adds to it.

What is happening now is in a world of materiality the higher levels of ethical codes and values seem to have been pushed to sidelines. When money becomes the centripetal, it is obvious that the aspects that constitutes ‘happiness’ such as contentment, sharing, need-based not want-based, moderation and thankfulness gradually ebbs out. Instead greed and dubious means of acquisitiveness takes the center-stage. Happiness is the end and the means to acquire it revolve around not acquisition of money, but goes beyond. As Lao Tzu rightly points out that “If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the world belongs to you.”

Dr. John Mohan Razu

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