It does crush the pride of a nation to find itself ranked as low as 133rd in a global ranking of happiness.
While it's debatable whether something as subtle as happiness can be plotted on the basis of gross factors such as income and life expectancy or intangible values like social support and generosity, we cannot brush aside the fact that we are ranked much unhappier than our counterparts in terror-ravaged Pakistan (80) or poverty-stricken Somalia (93) and Ethiopia (119).
Interestingly, the 11-place decline from the preceding year has come at a time when our GDP growth seems to be doing just fine. So where have we slipped up?
Much as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, happiness is a state of mind. And like all things mental, happiness is subtle and delicate. Despite being the ultimate motivation behind all our actions in this world, only a few people genuinely experience happiness in today's hectic and fast-paced world.
That money cannot buy happiness is a known proposition. The old-school model of linking happiness to material gratification and possessions has fallen flat, with many of the world's most developed countries topping in suicide rates and depression. So what can India do to improve her ranking the World Happiness Report (WHR)?
The first challenge is to engineer a paradigm of happiness away from prosperity. Happy countries which have topped the latest ranking have risen to their pole positions more on intangibles like social capital, trust and generosity than the conventional measures of prosperity. This finding must add to India's happiness as we are the traditional repository of these values. Generations of people from all over the world have been coming here to find true happiness.
Spirituality, as practised in this country, is nothing but the science that postulates the wisdom, techniques and processes of fostering happiness. Spirituality does provide a tool to calm the mind and cope with the stresses of life. It does empower one to face realities of life and deal with them happily with care, compassion and courage. In a sense, we gave the world the formula for happiness but failed to apply it at home.
The consolation is this ancient formula that we have has the power to shore up the six indicators used for the WHR ranking. Be it income, life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity, this philosophy of holistically looking at life can effectively address it for India.
What is needed is an effective mechanism that could deliver the skill of happiness to its masses. In short, skill development of a different kind.
Firstly, that will require a paradigm shift from "money cannot buy happiness" to "happiness can be delivered and administered". More importantly, the delivery mechanism must go beyond feel-good populism of a few welfare schemes and focus on teaching happiness, not as a concept but as a practical experience of it. The good news is that happiness can be taught and learnt. There are already structured courses available.
Such structured training will not only help in demystifying the abstract concept of happiness but also make its massification easier. In this context, it may not be a bad idea to have a national ministry for happiness on the lines of one pioneered by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh.
Such a national ministry, backed by a holistic policy, can surely make India more happiness-savvy. India needs an emphatic bid for happiness whose goal is not confined to just improving the dismal rank in the Global Happiness Index.
( M. Rajaque Rahman is a former business journalist and writes on issues relevant to the Idea of India. Views are personal. He tweets @rajaque. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)