Are we a contented lot? Or are we grumpy and cantankerous? This year, the United Nations Development Programme, possibly bored of measuring things like poverty, has a section in its Human Development Report titled ‘Perceptions of Individual Well-Being and Happiness’, which measures “Overall Life Satisfaction” on a scale from 0 to 10, 10 being maximum satisfaction. India has a score of 5.5.
Does 5.5 seem too high? We are after all the country with the highest population of malnourished people. Maybe the UN agency surveyed people like
A Raja, the ex-telecom minister, or the guys who got contracts for the Commonwealth Games — they at least have plenty of reasons to be happy. Eighty-five per cent of those surveyed said they were contented with their health, while 61% said they were happy with their standard of living and 62% professed satisfaction with affordable housing. Perhaps they interviewed those who got flats in Adarsh society.
The Human Development Report is a prestigious one and it has a foreword by Noble prize-winner Amartya Sen, so it can’t be all bunkum. I noted with immense satisfaction that Pakistanis were slightly less satisfied than us, with a score of 5.4. Interestingly, Iraq scores 5.5, the same as India. Despite their country being under foreign occupation, in spite of daily bomb blasts, Iraqis are as satisfied as we are. It sure takes little to satisfy Iraqis. 84% of them said they were ‘treated with respect’. Does al-Qaeda have a policy of blowing up people respectfully?
The smuggest country in the world is Costa Rica, a country in Central America, with a score of 8.5. Its name means ‘rich coast’, which is probably why it’s so happy. In the ‘medium development’ bracket to which India belongs, the most satisfied country is the Dominican Republic, an island in the Caribbean that shares a border with basket-case Haiti. Dominicans, who have a score of 7.6, higher than England’s 7.4, must be getting up every morning, looking at the mess in Haiti and thanking their lucky stars.
It gets even weirder. In India, 91% of the people surveyed have answered ‘yes’ to the question whether they lead a purposeful life. Could it be that the overwhelming majority of us have discovered the purpose of life, a question debated by philosophers for thousands of years? Will I now have to confront the awful truth that I belong to the tiny 9% minority with no clue about the meaning of life?
Most people in country after country have said, “Yes, we have a purposeful life” to the UN. The percentage varies from 100 in Liberia, which recently saw a civil war, to 70 in the sceptical Netherlands. Eighty-three per cent of Afghans say they have a purpose in life. Could the UN agency have interviewed the Taliban, who told them they led purposeful lives without revealing that the purpose was to blow up as many NATO troops as possible?
Wait a minute, though. Perhaps the reason so many in India and in the poorer countries lead a purposeful life is simply because their purpose is to survive. Maybe the 98% of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who say they have found a purpose merely mean their goal is to avoid getting killed? There could, however, be another equally valid reason. Perhaps the reason for some of the more bizarre findings is that most people suddenly discovered that their purpose in life was to glibly lie through their teeth to the UN surveyors.
(Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint)
*The views expressed by the author are personal