You Get Happiness When You Give It To Others

As in the past, about a thousand respondents in 150 countries were asked to evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 as to how happy they are with life currently

As earlier, this year’s World Happiness Report, WHR ( 2023) has been  prepared for  the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network by a team of eminent economists led by Jeffrey Sachs . It ranks countries on the basis of levels of happiness which their people have been able to achieve.  A cursory look at the rankings   reveals a pattern: with a few exceptions, the further north a country is from the equator, the higher is likely to be its rating. 

Thus the Nordic and Scandinavian countries score   very high on the happiness index as do countries in Western Europe and O.E.C.D. This would be fine if the ratings were on development.  But can we equate development with happiness? 

As in the past, about a thousand respondents in 150 countries were asked to evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 as to how happy they are with life currently. The scores of three years- 2020, 2021 and 2022 were then averaged out to determine the level of happiness in a country. 

Finland has emerged as the happiest country in the world for the sixth year in a row. It is closely followed by Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. The U.S., U.K. and Australia all make it into the top twenty. Strife torn Lebanon and Afghanistan are at the bottom. India is at 126, behind the failed state of Pakistan at 108 and bankrupt Sri Lanka struggling with food riots, at 112! 

The rankings appear flawed for a number of reasons. First, can the level of happiness in a country be gauged from a sample size of 1000 respondents? Imagine attempting this for India, a country with a culturally diverse  population of 1.4 billion speaking 447 languages.  

Second, the report is perhaps a notch too simplistic in attempting to explain happiness levels by scores under six parameters - namely,    per capita GDP, life expectancy, social support in times of need, freedom of choice to pursue life’s   goals, generosity, and corruption. Good scores under these parameters   may well reflect a high level of economic development in a country and lay the foundation for happiness for individuals; but nothing beyond. After that, the quest is individual  

Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon –General, has pointed out that loneliness, a disease leading to alienation, anxiety and depression, has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. (ranked 20th in WHR2023). Fifty percent of adults in that country suffer from this disease exposing them to a 29 per cent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 per cent increased risk of stroke and a 50 per cent increased risk of developing dementia.  

In Sweden (ranked 6th) the suicide rate at 10 per lakh is double of that in traditional societies such as Peru (ranked 75th) and Ghana (ranked 107th).  These statistics hardly reflect happiness. People in traditional societies, on the contrary, especially in India, are bound by strong family and friendship ties, more conducive to creating social connect and happiness. 

The goal of life, Aristotle pointed out, is indeed to find happiness; but this endeavour is always personal and the journey, internal.  According to our own wisdom traditions we may find it in pursuing our dharma- a layered, flexible concept that enables each individual to travel on their own journey in search of truth. That is why it has survived thousands of years. 

We may find it in pursuing excellence as an in itself or in performing our duties in a detached way without obsessing about results. Some of us may find it in meditation or in controlling our desires and practicing moderation, knowing that we can never have resources to satisfy all our wants. Life may also teach us – as Covid did recently- that when devastation or misfortune strikes and we lose our loved ones, we may just find our dharma in accepting events as they unfold- and move on.  

The report however is dead right in one important respect- in its emphasis on giving. More than sixty years ago on a school trip to a village near Delhi, in reply to a question,   the eminent Gandhian Vinoba Bhave told me “you get happiness, when you give it to others.” 

Poor people near the equator have as much of a chance at finding it as rich people living away from it.  

Tags assigned to this article:
happy people Joy of life wellbeing


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