When the Global Peace Index, 2019 was published, I started looking for Indias position, high and low. Not that I was expecting a top-ranking, given the fact that the ugly apparitions of violence road rage, lynching, gang rape keep repeating on my TV screen. Even then, such a low grading slipping five places to 141 among 163 countries shocked me.
The rating does not do justice to the land that gifted the greatest apostles of peace, Buddha and Gandhiji, to the world. We developed yoga, the ancient wisdom for wellness, peace, and harmony, and today western cities are swept by a yoga fervour. Foreign tourists often come to India to master the techniques of inner peace. Why then, our own assets fail us? Why, as a nation, peace eludes us?
Surprisingly, the low ranking has not caused a ripple in the country. The Opposition did not latch on to it; neither did the media find it worthy to question our unhappiness. No politicians have ever promised us happiness, though their manifestos repeatedly offered freebies, wealth, job, education, secularism, reservations, military power, electricity, water, growth, infrastructure and development. Perhaps they were not sure, understandably so, none of these can guarantee a happy life to the Indians.
A cursory look at the list reveals some interesting points. Money matters but only partially. The greatest economy on the planet, the U.S., fares low, while another strong economy, Japan, managed a place at the top. Bhutanese, though poor, are richly happy. None of the Big Five (permanent members of the UN Security Council) are in the top-10. It means military power does not guarantee peace and joy to citizens. On the contrary, the states which care for soft power such as traditions, heritage, sports and cultural activities are right on top, vindicating Ralph Waldo Emersons recommendation for culture-driven development in conflict zones.
Less population means fewer mouths to feed, more resources per head and less competition. Most of the top-ranking countries are sparsely populated. Peace in our neighbourhood contributes too. The high success rate of Scandinavian countries in the happiness index shows that nations in a region find bliss collectively, not in isolation, and we should partner, not envy nor hate, our neighbours in our quest for happiness.
Almost all the countries in the first 50 are democracies, proving that there is no better form of government to ensure general contentment. Even then, a King or Queen, as a ceremonial figure seems to act as a guiding and pacifying figure. Nations built on religious identities and theocracies rank so low raising questions on the role of religions in ensuring happiness.
Nevertheless, high-ranking countries have less ethnic and religious diversity, throwing up fresh challenges before multicultural nations such as India and the U.S. Greater effort and more exchanges between communities to find common causes and shared values are needed to reduce tensions. Nations giving equal opportunities to women and treating them with dignity tend to be more cheerful, underscoring the importance of women in making life lively and colourful. So are the flora and fauna; nurture them for our own sake. No doubt the climate can affect our mood. The hot tropical countries, barring Singapore and Malaysia, struggle to be joyful.
Some of the factors determining happiness might be beyond our control, but most of them are within our reach with a little more conscious effort. We need not wait to become a five trillion economy or to get a seat on the high table at the UN to become high-spirited. Let us just reorient ourselves a bit with a relook into our approach to life, our relations with neighbours and our expectations from children; sooner than later we will find election manifestos promising us more happiness.