Humans have been on a constant quest of finding a better tomorrow. Philosophers, economists and seers, all have defined their own scales of measuring human development and growth since ages. But are we doing it right?
According to the Human Development Growth Report by UNDP, we are not just living in an unhappy world, we are living in times where the entire human race is undergoing a psychic metamorphosis. Human development and growth does not sync with the mental state of the masses.
If you choose to annul the claims of Instagram and Facebook feeds of today’s generation, a staggering reality will hit hard. You might have read often that this is an unhappy generation but here I shall present to you a more precise reality.
We are not talking about the factors on the crust that are visible through naked eyes- prevalence of digital media, fierce competition, nine-to-five lifestyle. We are talking about something more grave, something that requires urgent attention. And here, we shall use economics to decipher the entire shell inside which breeds the melancholy of the 21st Century.
Continuing what the Human Development Report by UNDP said:
Human race is passing through a grave transition and introspection about the possibility of multi-cultural existence.
But here is the catch —
Things weren’t this bad till 22 years ago. In fact, according to a study conducted in 2005 by a senior economist with UNDP, Stefan Priesner, the period between 1984 to 1998 was a unicorn era for human development. There was a whopping increase of 19 years in human life expectancy, global literacy rate jumped to 47.5 percent from mere 17% and global gross school enrolment reached 72%.
But then, something happened that changed everything.
Attack on World Trade Centre, USA.
9/11 attack by the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, no doubt had far-reaching consequences on the finance and economy of not just the US but the world. However, little do people know that the attack shook the unicorn wave of human development and growth during the dawn of a new century. The world was witnessing the outbreak of globalization on one hand and on the other, the psychological impact of the attack (along with economic) altered the development stream.
When The Towers Fell | National Geographic
But wait! What is Development?
I mean, what development actually is in the language of economics?
It is important to understand some basics before we move towards the anatomy of happiness in the 21st century.
You might often hear people saying that the country is developing because of an increase in GDP.
Well! Next time, you correct them.
The terms, human development and growth are used interchangeably but they are different. Increase in GDP is not development of a country. It is growth. While development of a nation can be a sign of growth in the economy but they are not the same.
Growth is a quantifiable increase in the economic variables of a nation like road network, total production of rice, increase in per capita income, etc. However, development signifies quality of life in an economy and it is measured in terms of both, quantity and quality. Factors signifying development are healthcare infrastructure, nutrition levels, literacy rate, etc.
The relation between human development and growth can be established in three cases:
- Higher growth and higher development
- Higher growth but low development
- Low growth but high development.
The peculiar case of high economic growth but low economic development was first witnessed in Gulf countries and the economists finally decided to initiate a new branch of economics to deal with development and not just growth of nations – development economics. A circular relationship between human development and growth was recognized and policies were formulated by the World Bank and IMF to erase miseries from the global map.
However, The Great Depression, another major event that changed the way humans think and act, broke down this circular relationship. With deteriorating life conditions, governments throughout the world placed welfare of their masses on priority. And finally, a whole new branch called Welfare Economics, originated.
The next step was to establish a way to measure Human Development. And…
Here comes UNDP in the picture
UNDP released its first Human Development Report in the year 1990 and defined three indicators for the evaluation of Human Development Index (HDI):
- Standard of Living
Throughout the 1990s, the World Bank and the nations continued to adhere to the HDI defined by UNDP. However, there were constant debates and versions from scholars about the shortcomings of the HDI. Some emphasized on peace of mind as a parameter to judge the development, others came up with some different versions.
With time, debates led to the phase of introspecting development. With increasing pressure to include indicators like cultural aspects, ethical dimensions, clean environment and people’s idea of happiness, confusions started taking the shape of reformations. Experts and economists also started studying the development trends of ‘developed nations’ to understand the real situation.
Western countries ranked among the top 20 according to the HDI. This indicated good health infrastructure, literacy rate and high standard of living (measured through Gross National Income) in those countries. However, these countries were in terrible shambles of ethics. Corruption, drug addiction, burglaries, rapes, murders, sexual perversion, and other crimes were strikingly high. All this led to chaos among scholars and researchers and established the fact that
Happiness is Broader than Human Development and Growth
Intellectuals from all over the world came to the conclusion that the notion of current development was appropriate to meet the materialistic needs of the society. However, happiness is largely the outcome of its non-material side.
Spiritualism, culture, religion and ethics are what serve as a source to the non-materialistic aspect of happiness. And this idea crept in through the interesting case of a small kingdom in the lap of Himalayas, ‘Bhutan’.
The Happiness Case Study of Bhutan
If the entire read has hereby resulted in a frenzy for you, relax! Because this next section will be your cheerful oasis.
Did you know that while counting the materialistic aspect of economic development, Bhutan also takes into account the non-materialistic aspect of the country and collectively calls it ‘Gross National Happiness’.
It adheres to UNDP’s indicators of human development. However, Bhutan also adds some of its own parameters while calculating the GNH-
- Higher per capita income
- Good governance
- Environmental protection
- Cultural promotion (ethical and spiritual values in life)
The idea behind Bhutan’s parameters of GNH is that
Without ethical and spiritual values, progress may become a curse rather than a blessing.
Watch: How Bhutan puts happiness before economy | NowThis World
Comparison of GNH and HDI
Due to the success of the Bhutan module (the country has been consistently ranked as one of the happiest in the world), the World Bank and UN acted upon the two parameters i.e. good governance and environmental protection. Good governance model has been enforced on the member states of the UN. The UN Convention was also set up to establish the urgency of sustainable development and environment protection.
Now, this concluded that the two indexes differed only on one major parameter – inclusion of ethical and spiritual values.
This draws a bigger picture and sparks thoughts
The world is fast pacing on the path of modernization which is yielding cynicism against spiritualism in today’s lifestyle. With all the riots and disturbances around the globe, it is no doubt natural to trust the concept of religion.
But another reality is that religion and spiritualism define the ethics of humankind. There is a certain level of happiness and peace that materialistic factors can’t achieve. And the best example of the same is the Bhutan module.
The world was contemplating and moving towards a transition when the World Trade Centre attack made the Bhutan module even more difficult to be accepted. Already the western world was shackled in the chains of unacceptance towards spiritualism and religion. The 9/11 attack posed another problem of multicultural coexistence, a problem which is only amplifying till date. Asian countries including India are no exception. The fear and doubts about diverse societies in a world sailing on globalization sounds like a pretty difficult thing to settle in mind, but this is a reality.
World Happiness Report, 2019
The World Happiness Report 2019 released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network has some interesting points that will serve as a better explanation of whatever is discussed above. This report measured the happiness of 156 nations on the basis of the following parameters:
- GDP Per Capita
- Someone to count on (Social Support)
- Healthy life expectancy at birth
- Freedom to make life choices
- Perceptions of Corruption
- Top 3 countries according to the parameters in 2019 were Finland, Denmark and Norway.
- The most interesting and thought-provoking part was that none of the leading economies of the world made it to the top 10 rank of Happiest countries in the world.
- India dropped from 133 to 140th rank on the list making it one of the unhappiest countries in the world. The nation was grouped among the five countries showing major and consistent drop in happiness index alongside Yemen, Syria, Botswana, and Venezuela. This drop had been consistent since 2016.
- Countries ranked lowest in the list were Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
- The USA was reported to be amid dire unhappiness and depression due to rampant digital screen addiction and consumption of opioids.
- In 43 countries alongside India and the USA, GDP per capita saw a higher trend but the happiness level of masses saw a drastic dip.
- Countries like China and Germany were among a very few examples of countries where GDP per capita and happiness level, both were witnessed at an uphill.
We live in strikingly contradictory times. On one hand, advancement in technology and production is helping economies soar. On the another hand, the same technology is killing the environment one day at a time. While digital expansion is making the world a smaller and more convenient place, the misguided standards of beauty, success and body image on social media are dragging people on the verge of losing their mind. While the wealth of the nations is increasing with the economic and human development and growth, people fall prey to evils like obesity, alcoholism, sexual perversion, drugs and diseases.
But humans have proven their ability to find solutions from time to time. It may take a long road to hit the milestone where we may finally define parameters closest to happiness, but we can never deny the possibility. Let’s trust the human toil.