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In pursuit of happiness

How happy is urban India with The Big Three: health, money and sex life? The findings of the comprehensive, path-breaking 16-city HT-MaRS Happiness Survey are likely to take you by surprise.

brunch Updated: Jan 13, 2013 02:21 IST
Saudamini Jain

How happy is urban India with The Big Three: health, money and sex life? The findings of the comprehensive, path-breaking 16-city HT-MaRS Happiness Survey are likely to take you by surprise.

The survey was carried out by market research agency MaRS among 5,400 people, an equal number of men and women, in 16 state capitals and major cities in India. The sampling methodology ensured that the respondents were
representative of the cities. All respondents were chosen from SEC A and SEC B households. The happiness index was measured by asking a simple question for each of the three aspects:

Money: How happy are you with the amount of money that you have?
Sex life: How happy are you with your sex life?
Health: Given your age, family history, medical history and other environmental factors, how happy do you think you are with your health?

Happiness Scale
900 or more: Extremely happy

800-900: Happy

700-800: Somewhat happy

600-700: Happiness under strain

600 or below: Unhappy

A variety of things make people happy. There’s no magic formula. It could be a friend, a holiday, a job or something as mundane as the weather. And to measure just how happy people are is no easy feat. in an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable and figure out how happy India is, we decided to ask direct questions. For this, the Hindustan Times commissioned market research agency MaRS to carry out the HT-MaRS Happiness Survey. In November and December last year, more than 5,000 people across 16 cities and all age groups were asked to rate their happiness with different aspects of their lives on a scale of 1 to 10. We then multiplied their scores by 100 for a three-digit Happiness Index – a number that tells you not just how happy one city is, but how it compares with other cities in India when posed the same questions.

The survey quizzed people on pretty much every aspect of their lives. But today, in Brunch, we focus on The Big Three: Health, Money and Sex – all the things that make up a good life, all the things that you love about Brunch. Keep in mind that our survey didn’t ask people how healthy they were, how much money they had, or how many times they indulged in sexual activities. We merely wanted to know how happy they were with their well-being, financial situation and sex life. Over the next seven days, you’ll see the rest of the survey unfold in the daily edition of the Hindustan Times. But for now, curl up with all our findings and surprising discoveries about health, money and sex. Smaller cities are the place to be

Which three cities are the happiest with their health? Indore (happiness index: 805), Jaipur (802) and Patna (800). And which turned out to be the happiest with the money they possess? Ahmedabad (782), Jaipur (770) and Chandigarh (768). This could be because these cities (despite not being major metropolises) have seen major economic growth recently. Businesses and industries are flourishing in Ahmedabad. Tourism is thriving in Jaipur and prosperous Chandigarh has the third highest per capita income in the country.

Where do you think people are happiest with their sex lives? No, not Delhi (it turned out to the least happy – with a happiness index of only 664). Smaller cities scored again: Indore, Patna and Ahmedabad.

So what’s making our smaller cities happier than our big ones? Siddharth Chowdhury, author of the novel Patna Roughcut, says it’s the easier pace of life in a smaller city. Everybody knows everybody, so anything out of line can spread like wildfire. It forces you to be on your best behaviour. "A bigger city [like Delhi or Mumbai] can be an impersonal place," he says. "People are always living on the edge."

Any stressed out city dweller will tell you that urban stress affects your well-being. "The level of violence, crime and governance in a city impact not just your health but also your ability to be happy," says Dr Priya Balu, a senior public health specialist with Delhi’s Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). "How can you be happy when you’re

worried about your safety?"

As the metropolises continue to extend their borders to accommodate more and more people, their residents end up spending longer hours commuting – another reason for their dissatisfaction. You could have the same working hours in a smaller city like Jaipur (which ranks #2 in health) but if you live in Delhi (at #13) and work in Gurgaon, your commute is half the distance to Jaipur! Or if you live in Mumbai (which ranked #6) and commute between Thane and Cuffe Parade every day, you’re spending more than two hours in traffic, fuming even as you darken your lungs with every breath. Health experts believe that one hour on the road is normal. But anything more than that is time which could have been better spent in the gym, in a park, or resting.

And if you can barely manage to get half the sleep your body needs, how can you possibly make time for good, regular sex? Sexologist Dr Prakash Kothari explains why smaller cities reported being happier in the bedroom – there are fewer distractions. There’s little nightlife or other sources of entertainment, so "people have the time to experiment and indulge." Sex in the big cities, on the other hand, tends to become "an act of hurry and duty rather than making love," he says.

In a city as cramped as Mumbai (which ranked 11th with its sex life), it’s the lack of space that acts as a deterrent to having sex. Dr Anita Patil Deshmukh, executive director of the city’s independent research collective Partners in Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (Pukar) says that when they conducted a survey about privacy and public spaces in Mumbai, "couples, especially those living in 1BHKs, in very candid interviews, said that the lack of space affected their sex lives."

Marriage is perhaps the best way to get sex
The survey also found that the 18-25 age group is the unhappiest with its sex life (happiness index: 682). It’s not surprising, most unmarried people from that age group who we spoke to after we saw the findings, admitted that their sex life was pretty much non-existent. The only times they had sex often was when they were in a stable relationship. And even then, they said that there was usually no place to do it, unless they were lucky enough to be living on their own. Many, who were lucky enough to have a place, often did not have a partner. “Unlike Japan where they have love hotels, there is a great space problem in the country,” says Dr Kothari.

But, there’s some good news. People over the age of 26 tended to fare better. It could be because many Indians are married by then, taking care of both the place and partner conundrum. “Marriage also gives you more security by making things official,” adds Dr Prakash Kothari.

The survey shows that the 10 years after 25, till you’re 35, tend to be the happiest in your sex life. But even when it goes downhill after, it won’t be as bad as those early years.

Bangalore, Hyderabad overtake Chennai, Kochi

When we asked people simple questions on just how happy they were with their health, money and sex life, Hyderabad and Bangalore were consistently within the 10 happiest cities. Chennai and Kochi were always among the six least happy. Hyderabad, in fact, ranked fourth in terms of being happy with its health.

This, may seem strange – Chennai and Kochi are, after all, big centres for medical tourism. Chennai is the country’s health capital. And the 2011 India Human Development Index report placed Kerala at the top for achieving the highest literacy rate, quality health services and consumption expenditure. But sociology professor GK Karanth from Bangalore’s Institute for Social and Economic Change has a theory about why these cities may still feel unhappy with their healthcare. "Health facilities cater more to the outsider than the local in Chennai and Kochi," he says. Karanth adds that Bangalore and Hyderabad are far more medicalised and that people tend to visit the doctor more often.

The reason Hyderabad is even happier than Bangalore is probably because the city has better public health response than other southern cities. "Bangalore hasn’t been able to cope with urban stresses," says Dr Balu of PHFI, Delhi.

What also seems to have worked in favour of Hyderabad and Bangalore is the anonymity that the cities offer. Professor Karanth believes that "the two cities are similar to Mumbai". There’s a huge migrant population, and thanks to the IT industry, there are more jobs, more business opportunities and simply more ways to find success. They are full of young people who are doing well for themselves.

Although Chennai is expanding as well, and attracting migrants, it "may not accommodate people as comfortably as Bangalore and Hyderabad," says Karanth. And that may not make it a particularly happy place to live in. Kerala is also grappling with its large population of old people and trying to cope with the fact that more young people are moving out of the state.

Bangalore and Hyderabad have also indicated that they are happier with their sex lives. Could it be because of their largely young (under-35) population? It is a possibility, says Karanth, attributing it to the people’s "uninhibited preparedness for sex". He also thinks it could be because "in Chennai and Kochi, there is a tendency of conservatism in speech, interaction and body language. These show in attitudes towards sex."

Age has everything to do with happiness
Of all the age groups, the 60-plus age group is the unhappiest with its health and money. The retired, in fact, are under financial strain. Inflation has soared, old-school financial plans seem woefully inadequate for today’s expenses, and deteriorating health seems to just make matters worse. Our elderly are simply not able to reap the benefits of their lifetime of hard work and scrupulous saving.

Sheilu Srinivasan, founder of the Dignity Foundation, an NGO that provides social support, shelter and advocacy for the elderly, says that “even for people who have health insurance, many insurance companies do not honour very legitimate claims by old people.” The rise in medical expenditure is something that most retired people are unable to deal with. “Someone who retired five years ago cannot cope with inflation today. The money is definitely not enough to continue with the standard of living they were used to.”
It is also their inability to adjust to technology that makes them “feel unequipped for the pace of the modern world,” she adds.

People now spend one-third of their lifetime in retirement. India’s average life expectancy is 67.2 years, almost equal to the global average. But the middle and higher classes live well into their 80s, which means, says Himanshu Rath, chairperson of the Agewell Foundation, “we’re seeing a first generation of old people – people who did not see their parents live this long.” They were just not prepared for their old age. “We’ll see a change in 20-30 years,” Rath adds. “The second generation will be better prepared when they grow old because they have a better understanding of the requirements of old people.”

Indian housewives aren’t desperate housewives
Housewives, as our survey found, are happier with their money than working women. It may sit at odds with our notions of Indian housewives as TV addicts with little else to do than gossip and cook. But their sense of happiness could possibly emerge from the fact that the very idea of the housewife has changed.

Being one, especially in our cities, is no longer a compulsion. For the better educated woman of today, it is a voluntary decision. She has greater control over the family. She no longer needs her husband to take her to the multiplex. Says Professor Karanth, “She has the right over the household money – joint accounts, ATM cards.”

Housewives also seemed the happiest with their sex lives (with a happiness index of 766) . Working women in comparison, averaged an index of only 747. Sexologist Dr Kothari says it’s because “a working woman has to work outside the house and within. She’s more stressed.” Housewives on the other hand, have become “more vocal” and are no longer shy about “asking for sex”.

Slow or steady
Is the fast life of the big city for you? Or are you a slow-paced small city kind of person?

It's a simple test
1 being the lowest, and 10 being the highest, at what stress level do you perform best? If your answer is less than 7, you’re suited for a slow-paced life. If more, you belong in a big city.

Dr Sunil Mittal, chairman, Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, New Delhi

Incredible happiness in indore
A few years ago, Indore was a picturesque little town. It was warm, cozy and very happy. Happy, it still is. In fact, according to our Happiness Survey, it is the happiest city with its health and sex life. When it comes to money, the city, also known as mini-Mumbai, is fourth on the list, ahead of Mumbai.

As it turns out, Indore is getting bigger and happier even as you read this. Several things happened simultaneously to cause this: Industries were set up in and around the city, businesses expanded, IT companies began investing, people from bigger cities started moving in, and the price of real estate shot up. The city is now a healthy, wealthy mix of the old moneyed class and the nouveau riche.

Nishant Rajvaidya, 27, grew up in the city and fondly remembers the “aunties who used to call you home for a simple lunch” but now, “the same aunties are driving around the city in their Bentleys and shopping at Satya Paul.” Somehow, in our metropolis minds, Indore was a city of families riding scooters. Far from it. Says Rajvaidya, “My neighbours have a helicopter!”

Interestingly, people really are health-conscious in Indore. Not in the sipping-green-tea-and-munching-on-organic-crackers kind of way but the real thing. “Over the last couple of years, people have woken up and taken to walking,” says Vani Sharma, 43, who works in Indore. Everybody has a club membership. They play tennis and badminton. They go to the gym. Stress hasn’t caught up with them yet. “And there are periodic health checks in every part of the city,” Sharma adds.

And sex? Says, Ishita Gupta (name changed), who also grew up in the city, “Of course people have pre-marital sex. But nobody talks about it.” It’s a small place, everybody knows everybody. That’s probably why it’s so thrilling, she adds wryly. One one-way ticket coming up.

Experts say there are more ways to find success in hyderabad than in Chennai, because the latter might not accommodate its rising migrant population as comfortably.

From HT Brunch, January 13

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