The failure of the Happiness Index

My neighbor in New York was an old woman named June. Her husband Herbert was housed in a nursing home for the elderly. They had adult children living in different states of the US from where they made rare visits to their parents. June was more attached to my wife and children. She loved us very much. We used to invite him when we had some sort of festivities. As I later learned, a midnight of June had chest pain but did not want to disturb anyone. She braved to drive the car to the nearby hospital, where she breathed her last. My family could not resist an explosion of tears when we learned that June left us silently. How was Happy June living in a country like the United States that ranked 14th in the last hint of 2017?

June's death was similar to that of Devdas of Sharatchandra, who had no one at his side to shed tears for him when he left the world. Poor Devdas was unhappy because he was deprived of Parvati's love. Poignant isolation and dry individualism – common traits in Western societies – deprive June of love. We will see a lot of Junes in countries like Norway, Denmark, and Iceland that have ranked numbers 1, 2, and 3 in this so-called index of happiness. Link and love are the main ingredients of happiness – a subject of literary thinkers, psychologists and philosophers – but suddenly diverted by economists like Richard Easterlin 40 years ago and later, terribly mistreated by his disciples


The concept of "happiness" in economics has attracted little attention for years, and arguably no curiosity of the dominant economy because the definition of the richest as happier violates certain principles of decline Of marginal utility. However, the recent ranking of happiness by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and surprisingly by the United Nations has added some fun to an otherwise dry world of economy. It is little different from the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), which is much higher in the treatment of the term 'development'. The ranking in the HDI presents a consistent pattern of change for countries without adding any sarcastic increases or decreases in countries. Seeing Pakistan as a much happier country than Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and even India is nothing but a joke.

In economics, utility or satisfaction can not be measured as money, but it can be ordered. Although happiness is related to satisfaction, the properties to be measured utility do not necessarily apply to happiness. A utility property says that more than two properties, for example, x and y, will provide a higher level of utility. This is not necessarily true for happiness, which is based on subjective perception and is therefore quite individualistic. Therefore, measuring the happiness of a country is a stupid despair. Indexers try to sell the concept of economic prosperity in the name of happiness. While austerity may be a preference for happiness in many exhibitors, the philosophy of India Charvaka advises to be happy at all costs, even by borrowing from others to buy Ghee – an inclination towards consumerism.

What the index makers of happiness could do is rely on perception through surveys instead of adding a bunch of prosperity criteria: income, Life expectancy, having someone to rely on, generosity, freedom, trust, health and good governance. Happiness lies in simplicity. A complicated array of variables can show their econometric insight, but they fail to grasp the true flavor of happiness. In our school life we ​​read poem by Alexander Pope who said "Happy Man" that treasures simplicity with peace of mind. About five thousand years ago, as mentioned in Mahabharata, Yudhishira defined a happy man as one who does not have a loan or debt and who is not a migrant – lives in his country. The pope echoed the same note by saying, "Glad to breathe his native air in his own soil." The Bengali poet DL Roy defines the happy feeling of a patriotic man who desires to die in the same land as the " 39, he was born in the past

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Rabindranath Tagore warns that your happiness can evaporate if you venture for love with the desire for happiness. In the story, "How much ground does a man need?" Leon Tolstoy showed how much joy after too much wealth not only damages happiness but also ruins someone's life. Let happiness be there in the turn of literature or in the sublime domain of the human psyche. Economists do not need to encroach on all areas such as Dhaka land farmers. My American neighbor June had a high per capita income, but had no one to rely on in times of turmoil. Rather, poor daughter Durga of Pather Panchali had at least her mother next to her bed while she was dying of fever. Who is the happiest? What is the role of good governance here?

This does not mean that we do not advocate appropriate institutions and good governance. They can explain the affluence or level of prosperity. But they do not directly interpret happiness. Social support also does not guarantee a higher degree of happiness. Japan with excellent institutions and wonderful social support has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The San Francisco Golden Gate – a sign of prosperity – once transformed into a launch pad for suicides. Did they "willingly" commit suicide?

Are these peoples of the super rich nations not less happy than the poor boatmen of the Padma or Meghna rivers – who struggle to live happily everyday? How can companies with high divorce rates – especially evident in wealthier nations – be happier than companies with high family ties? Is divorce a source of happiness? It is surprising how economists as well as Jeffrey Sachs and John Helliwell invade the territory of psychiatrists. Economists had never been so predatory; And the economy was not diluted in the past.

Upon disembarking the flight, I get my luggage to John F. Kennedy after, say, 15 minutes. However, I get the same luggage at Dhaka airport after, for example, 120 minutes (a day of luck). This does not mean that I am [120/15 =] 8 times unhappy in the case of Dhaka. My rational expectations work in such a way that I feel like a prince once I get my luggage back after 2 hours and I feel like a king if I find the locks uninterrupted. Thus, a state of institutions may not necessarily translate mechanically and proportionally into happiness. People redefine happiness in an adaptive and dynamic way.

My son caught my attention once on a story that showed that couples who got married during the Great Depression did not resort to separations. Why? They were more attached to the tie that embraces authentic feelings, constant adjustments, sacrifice, and deeper love – the infallible recipes for happiness, which the index says can not capture at all

The author is Visiting Researcher of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Business Administration at the University of Dhaka. E-mail:

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