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Happiness Is Responsibility Of Both Society And Citizen

A modest form of generosity makes people happier than spending that same amount on themselves, writes Dr Vikas Singh

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Can money buy happiness?  It’s not a rhetorical question. Can money buy happiness is debatable, but it certainly does not make one sad.  

Happiness and its measurement a subject of chatter and debate  

The rich are generally happier than the poor. Money can increase happiness by enhancing both the ability and access to meet needs and fulfil desires. It provides the tools to solve problems. Equally true is that higher income fails to increase happiness beyond a certain level. 

A Crux study covering 18,000 adults across four socio-economic groups insights a strong correlation between happiness and several correlates of happiness. It highlights happiness is complex. Rich tends to be happier, and yet prioritising money over time has actually the opposite effect; and undermines happiness. A modest form of generosity makes people happier than spending that same amount on themselves. 

Happiness is unwieldy and difficult to measure, given the multidimensional phenomenon. Several factors affect individual well-being, with income, employment, marriage and education, as important determinants. 

Equally, ‘good and cordial’ relationships, health, social support, self-esteem, leisure, opportunities and access to ‘favourite’ activities and social participation is both a source and factors of happiness.  

The study articulates that money in the bank has a larger bearing on happiness than income. Even a tenth of annual income in the bank is bliss. Those in debt expressed a disproportionate level of dissatisfaction, with over 80 per cent of the respondents who had ‘availed’ personal loans feeling anxious, even unhappy.  

Similarly, those who ‘experienced’ holidays, trips, reunions, or ‘gifted’ were happier than those who used an equal amount to buy ‘things’ or gadgets. Over 90 per cent of the respondents in the top income decile (juggling and multi-tasking) expressed they would ‘trade’ time and leisure for money.  

Happiness is also dependent on what the citizens ‘receive’ for the taxes they pay. A vote is a ‘promissory’ note. They expect payback, feel cheated, and endure alienation. Over half of the respondents,  particularly those at the bottom half of the income pyramid blame the government for their misery. 

They expect the government to own responsibility and provide access to clean water, education, security, health, parks, and livelihood opportunities. The government has not enabled many of the capable and denied most others.  

Behaviours and choices influence well-being  

The individual has equal responsibility. People who pursue important long-term goals lead meaningful life. Those who exercise, work diligently, follow rules and abide by laws experience well-being. Those fostering a culture of togetherness and fraternity are happier.  

Happiness is enrapturing. The impact happiness has on society is difficult to capture but visible. Happy people function more effectively and enjoy more supportive and social relationships. They cheer others and lead to a cohesive society. They are law-abiding, financially responsible and more likely to help, vote and volunteer. They make a positive contribution. Are good citizens. 

At the individual level, happiness enhances health and longevity. Happiness doesn’t just feel good, it benefits. The study highlights those primed to feel happy were 40 per cent more productive and go on to earn more than their peers over a lifetime. They enjoy better health and live longer than the ‘less’  happy. Their behaviour and demeanour reflect on the people around them. Happy people do not just feel and function better they excel and achieve what they value. They lead a more fulfilling life. 

Happiness proliferates into substantial benefits for society.  

The study demonstrates that intuitions about how to ‘convert’ money into happiness are misguided. Often dead-wrong. Mobile phones, TVs, sports cars, and houses have only a limited impact on happiness.  

India ranks at the bottom decile of the  World Happiness Report. A key metric of happiness and well-being is whether people have access to the basic necessities of life at an affordable cost, coupled with freedom for their citizens to perform basic activities without any hindrance.  

Correlation is stronger in a poor economy, featuring steep inequality  

India has the dubious distinction of 70 per cent of its employees earning lower than the per capita income. Over 80 per cent of the poor lack social support, are deprived and denied, insecure and out of the inclusive net. They are exploited and suffer acute discrimination. Poor lack the resources to deal with setbacks. Over 400 ‘kill’ themselves every year. They often make wrong choices and vote badly.  

There is also a need for policymakers to understand happiness holistically and move away from the notion that happiness is ‘fluffy’, its pursuit is utopian. Happiness is inextricably linked to money and material well-being and increases with income although there is an upper bound, beyond which the income effect dissipates. 

We must reach that upper band.  

Our focus must not be on the causes of unhappiness but focus on how we can provide everyone with a dignified living. It’s an economic solution for over 80 per cent of the deprived Indians. We need to weave a new narrative that focuses on social welfare, emotional and mental well-being, inclusion, and sustainable development. 

For the rest, the solution lies in a broader idea of happiness. Countries with higher per capita incomes tend to have higher average life satisfaction scores and the better off within a system tend to be happier. 

Shrill voices across a section of the thinkers to replace GDP with a happiness index is misguided, doomed to fail, and must. While GDP may have a fair share of problems, it’s a robust measure, a common metric of value and a  fair indicator of many intangibles.  

Start by assessing the well-being of citizens  

This should not mean we give up; instead, intensify our search for those determining factors and identify tools that can holistically measure satisfaction, meaning and purpose of life. And address them holistically. 

While societal indicators such as unemployment, education, income, and health are measured and monitored, indicators of psychosocial well-being are equally important.  

Our policymakers must create policy frameworks and enablers that stimulate high, equally equitable growth. Growth triggers prosperity and enhances and sustains living standards.  

Eventually, we will need to move to ‘well-being’ as the overall measure of prosperity.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr. Vikas Singh

The author is a senior economist, columnist, author and a votary of inclusive development

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