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After India rating scandal, is it time to give a quiet burial to World Happiness Index report?

Is India really unhappy?

Is the World Happiness Index report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, based on data collected by Gallup World Polls biased? A recent report by the State Bank of India noted that the report “seems to have stuck to a rather generous and convenient middle path, overlooking persistent issues prevailing in many better ranked nations, from guns related violence unfolding through schools to streets, civil unrest on pension and jobs fronts, constant military dictatorship making freedom a scarce commodity for common citizen.”

India has been ranked among the lowest—125 of a total of 130 countries. Even the war-torn Ukraine is placed at 92.

How is the World Happiness Index prepared?

The Happiness Index, first released in 2012 is based on factors such as social support, health, income, freedom, generosity, corruption. All that is fine. But the data is collated on the basis of a “Cantril ladder”. It asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10 and the worst possible life being a 0, says the official website. “They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. The rankings are from nationally representative samples for the years 2020-2022,” it explains.

Now let us take the case of France, which ranked 10th on the index. France’s social balance has been off and on under threat in 2022 following the Russia Ukraine war which led to several mass protests in 2022.

Last month, about a million sanitary workers in France broke out in major protests suspending work opposing French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to increase the retirement age to 64 years—an extension of two years. While they are now returning to work, heaps of trash have accumulated.

Similarly, the US’ controversial gun policy has been under the spotlight for years now. In 2022, 647 mass shooting took place in the US. In 2021 the number was a shocking 690.

This year alone more than 130 mass shootings have taken place in the US.

That apart, several reports have suggested that loneliness in the US is rising. Europe too is suffering from increased loneliness.

The report has ranked Finland as the happiest country – this is the sixth time that the country has been ranked number one on the index. But the Nordic country has its own problems as well. While the country provides guaranteed health care facilities, free schooling along with a living wage and affordable housing according to the Nomad Today, Finland is a country of lonely people with about 23 per cent people living alone. Most Nordic countries encourage their citizens to be content with less. But such issues have their own challenges with extreme subdued living.

Closer home, Sri Lanka ranked 112. The country, which defaulted last year, has witnessed civil wars and food riots. Pakistan with a rank of 108 is inching towards a default. People, primarily the poorer sector, have little or no food to eat.

The SBI report further added that there is “something amiss” in assigning India’s ranking. “We also felt compelled to remove countries under military dictatorship from the model, lest the ranking becomes what the ‘(Ease of) Doing Business’ report was before the World Bank gave it a not so silent burial,” it said.

You do not need an expert to question the efficacy of the methodology.

Also read: India lower than Pakistan, Sri Lanka on Happiness Index: Is it believable?