The United Nations Happiness Index has been published, and it looks like my country has slipped 10 notches to 125 out of 156 countries.
I’m always confused by this UN index. For example, Bhutan is at 95. I have visited Bhutan and seen its people, read their newspapers and literature, and I think it is the happiest country among the less developed countries of the world.
Let’s take Pakistan, for another example. It has achieved 67th position in the index, even ahead of Russia and many other near-developed countries. Why do Pakistanis sound so happy?
When I asked this question in a social media forum, a few thought that Pakistani people, by submitting themselves to God, sounded happy. Although I didn’t agree with the reasoning, it was an interesting point of view.
In fact, the definition for happiness varies from country to country, society to society, community to community. I believe the perception or definition of happiness cannot be surveyed with a single set of questionnaires. It has to be different for every individual or every country.
Now, having said that, I wondered what it takes to be happy for a Bangladeshi. What makes us happy? What makes us smile?
The first aspect that pops up in my mind is our traffic system and behaviour. If you have seen the stressed faces of those who sit inside the vehicles in standstill traffic, you’d know what happiness is all about. When the vehicles start moving, the stressed faces look happy.
Then again, when thousands of people are run over by vehicles, that’s certainly not happiness. Death is always a painful and unhappy element of our lives.
We have thousands of unnecessary death across Bangladesh, with people dying through no fault of their own.
If you ask the relatives of the deceased, they won’t tell you happy stories.
When you go to any office to get work done, being able to do it without bribery is certainly happiness to us. People these days are quite happy paying and getting the work done.
But, sometimes, when they cannot get the work done even with the money, there’s nothing else to do but be unhappy about this system.
When a woman gets molested while riding the bus, or when she is beaten up by her husband, or when she is harassed by a colleague, she is certainly unhappy about the society she lives in.
Our society is full of incidences which show repression against women; thousands of women are ill-treated and violated day in and day out.
When a child is ill-treated by his or her teacher in schools, he or she becomes unhappy. No matter how hard and wholeheartedly he or she tries, he or she can never be a good student in school.
This child will never feel happy about the way we teach in our schools. Sometimes, it looks like the entire teaching process is full of unhappy elements which the students strive to overcome with their efforts, but seldom are they happy as they go about it.
They need to prove that he or she is the best all the time. The burden they carry to be good students makes them unhappy. But little do we realize it, failing to see all too often what is going on in their minds.
Happiness, to us, is a sense of security — both socially and financially. There are too many aspects in our daily life that contribute to our social and financial insecurities.
We are mired with thoughts of uncertainty about our future. About the future of our children. About our health care. About how we are going to carry the burden of the rising prices of essential goods.
We need to see whether the ongoing race for accumulating wealth is making us unhappy. We may think that wealth can wipe away all the unhappy moments from our lives, but we may also fail to see that the process of earning wealth may be full of issues which also contribute to our unhappiness.
I may not agree with the UN index on happiness and I think there are many happy elements in Bangladeshis’ lives, but at the same time, there are too many small unhappy occurrences taking place in our lives on a regular basis.
While we may not want to be like Bhutan, which encourages its citizens to focus on happiness, we can surely assess our own unhappy aspects and try to reduce them.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.
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