We Indians are a happy lot, and if you ask me, quite mindlessly so. Everyone I meet seems to have more than one pet peeve, from unstoppable corruption to abysmal salaries, unspeakable teachers, immovable traffic, hysterical news anchors, beatable cricket team and deviant weather. At the risk of sounding whiny myself, I have say that it’s impossible to think of something someone or the other is not whimpering about.
Yet survey after surveys tell us that we Indians, who appear to be the gurus of gripe, are actually among the happiest people in the world. The newest poll– done by Ipsos Global, which has surveyed more than 18,000 people in 24 countries — pegged only Indonesians higher than Indians on the happiness barometer. Mexicans were a close third, followed by Brazil and Turkey. People in Hungary, South Korea, Russia, Spain and Italy were the least happy, with the more affluent US, UK and Canada falling somewhere in the middle.
So, are Indians truly more than satisfied with life or is there something about the question “Are you very happy?” that makes us nod compulsively? It’s tough to say. For decades, while emotions that weigh mind down have been neatly classified under categories — such as anxiety, depression, obsessions or delusions, to name a few, yet positive psyche — feelings that make you euphoric, optimistic an fulfiled — have been largely ignored, unless the positive emotion yo-yoed with its negative extreme to fall under the bipolar disorder category.
The trouble with most mood polls is that they are too generalised. A recall of your life over days, weeks or months is likely to focus on the emotional highs and lows, rather than specifics. So, unless you’ve lost a child, spouse or job, you are likely to think of yourself as an active member of glee club, even if you’ve spent all your time griping about anything and everything.
To get a more accurate picture, Nobel–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University asked 900 women to list everything they did the previous day and rate each incident as happy, impatient, depressed, worried, tired. The women rated sex, socialising, relaxing, meditating and eating higher than “taking care of my children”, which ranked below cooking and just over housework. Yet, when asked what made them happiest, one in three said children, the answer that would get them wild applause in an Art of Living class.
What holds true across research is that more than absolute wealth or status, satisfaction from life depends on relative wealth or status. Studies by Dr Edward Diener — or Dr Happiness — at the University of Illinois show that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise satisfaction. Though the Ipsos Global poll reported education and age have some impact — its findings showed more educated under-35s are the happiest — psychiatrists insist education and age don’t matter. Compared to the young, older people are more consistently satisfied with their lives. Teenagers and 20-somethings the most likely to take their lives, with suicides in India are the highest in the more literate states of Kerala and Sikkim.
So, what are the things that can boost your mood? Well, all surveys show married people are happier than singletons, as are people with faith, largely because of the community participation it involves. People with friends and family, too, are more likely to be upbeat mentally, as are those who enjoy the work that they do and do occasional altruistic deeds.
The prescription? Focus on things that bring you sensory pleasure, be it music, religion or food, get a job that makes you happy, find time for friends and family and do five random acts of kindness a week at home and outside. All of that will leave you with little time to be depressed.