On the streets, on the buses, in restaurants, at the shopping malls, I notice a sense of dullness. Maybe it’s the continuing cold that has left America smarting. At home we still have our heating on; the rain comes daily; even the thunder and the grey. Ah! the grey never seems to leave for long. A blue sky is what I miss; but it ain’t there. Spring is officially here but even the pink and white blossoms and the yellow daffodils look sad.
Can America then be one of the top five countries of the world who are ‘happy?’ Not a chance! It’s not only the weather blues but a host of many other factors that the Forbes magazine mentions. Actually five years ago, researchers at the Legatum Institute, a London-based nonpartisan think tank, set out to rank the happiest countries in the world. “But because ‘happy’ carries too much of a touchy-feely connotation, they call it ‘prosperity’.”
While rating 110 countries covering 90 per cent of people in the universe, the index begins with economy, followed by entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, safety, personal freedom and the last is social capital.
Keeping these indices in mind, guess where Pakistan’s prosperity/happiness quotient falls? Even kids can answer this question because they live through the deprivations daily. (Disclaimer: this column is not for the rich, fat kids in their SUVs or their rich, fat moms and dads. Their lifestyle if ever Forbes was to measure would beat the happiest country in the world hollow!) So let’s get back on track: economy/prosperity is the no.1 requirement for a country to be happy. Step outside your home and travel from point A to B.
What do you see? Broken bumpy roads sending up clouds of dust, mountains of garbage, unbearable noise and air pollution, school kids crammed atop buses or dangling dangerously from the doors. This scene alone can plummet Pakistan to the lowest rungs of the happiness table.
Next is entrepreneurship. Only those who pay the bhata tax, bribe the local administration and have the double- heartedness to shortchange their customers can succeed. The lily-livered can never survive in such cutthroat business. Consumer rights? Are you kidding? There are none in Pakistan.
Running down the list, governance, education and health are next for us to judge and rate. The trio is non-existent, so why even go there? Lastly safety and personal freedom…well, well, the less said the better. The daily crime report – murders, honour killings, kidnapping for ransom and hate crimes against women and minorities. Add to this another column where the religious right has of late become a dangerous force to reckon with should it feel that someone is committing blasphemy.
And the very last – social capital is a concept that many of us in Pakistan don’t even know the meaning of, leave alone see its presence. Social capital, as defined by the World Bank, refers to the institutions, relationships and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together.
So want to know where Pakistan ranks among the 110 ‘happiest/prosperous countries’? It is 109! The only country below it is Zimbabwe. And America comes out at no. 10! Curious to know where India is? It’s no. 88; A good 21 places ahead of Pakistan. Can someone please show the 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index Table Rankings to our leaders in the military and the political power centres of Pakistan? Most of them, I assure you, won’t know of its existence and even if they do see it, will push it aside with a phoo pah. But truth prevails and can’t be wished away. Our leaders are not keen to share their booty, read foreign aid, with the masses. They only believe in amassing money for their mansions in Pakistan and abroad, limos, businesses here and outside, and of course sending their brats to the best schools and colleges abroad.
We should shame our policy makers by showing them how the top five happiest/prosperous countries care for their citizens: People of Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia and New Zealand are the lucky ones who enjoy the best that life and their countries can offer. But before rushing into accepting everything this index tells us, here’s the thing: not everyone is buying into this information. For example, about Rwanda which ranks 98 (imagine it’s better than Pakistan!) a blogger has this to say: “This table is just nothing, it was politically motivated. Let us not waste our time on it. We know how best our leaders and people are doing for the betterment of our countries, such reports tend to give no impression than presenting bad images for our countries. By the way, Rwanda is doing the best in all sectors, Rwandans are very happy.”
Oleg, another blogger writes: “Russia is placed at 38 for education? Ahahah, very funny. With one of the best institutes in the world. By the way I think it’s a very unobjective index table for many countries.” Paul B writes: “The US is the greatest country on the planet. It’s not perfect but it’s better than all the rest. Hands down.”
According to an Aussie, a country’s citizens are only “happy when they feel safe and free. Personally I take my own country Australia to be the leading example of how when all needs are satisfied we can all live happily ever after together. Everyone here is at peace. Why Australia prospers is because of hard work ethic and togetherness.”
For Finland which ranks 3 in happiness/prosperity, an American who has lived there for 13 years has this to say: “I haven’t noticed an overwhelming sense of happiness amongst the Finns. Alcoholism is a big problem there. Depression is high especially during the winter months with its constant darkness, frigid temperatures and unrelenting snow. People in Finland tend to be quiet and reserved and hardly welcoming of foreigners much less other people who are in their immediate circle.
Finland is a very expensive country. In the US, it is quite common to say hello and good morning to complete strangers. That isn’t the case in Finland. That being said, Finland has a good side. It is a comfortable and relatively safe country. The literacy rate is 100 per cent.”
Come on, what do you think about Pakistan’s rating. Fair or unfair? Let’s hear you react – angrily, emotionally, passionately or objectively. Darn, you must have some opinion!