Are you happy? Are you happier now than before? Or are you happier than others you know?
These straightforward questions might not have an honest answer. I tried to respond to these questions for myself, but with limited success. I am happy. However, I am not sure if I am happier now than before, or more than others.
While I struggle to answer these questions even for myself, researchers in Rome have released the fourth World Happiness Report that gauges happiness across the globe with an extensive survey of thousands of happy and unhappy people.
The Report coincides with the UN World Happiness Day on March 20. Pakistan is 92 on the list of 156 countries; more joyous than Iran (105) and India (118), but lagging behind Saudi Arabia (34).
Who knew crude and bitumen could lead to happiness.
The idea behind the ‘happiness project’ is rather simple. The traditional measures of economic well-being, such as GDP and life expectancy at birth, are limited in determining the breadth of human accomplishments.
Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitousi made the same point in Mismeasuring our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up.
The authors of the happiness report hold similar views. They believe that,
Happiness provides a better indicator of human welfare than do income, poverty, education, health and good government measured separately.
In the current report, they have included inequality of happiness as an additional measure and found that those who live in places where happiness is equitably spread are happier than the rest.
Unlike height, weight, or GDP, happiness is hard to measure.
I know my height and weight with certainty, which does not necessarily make me happy as I struggle to contain my weight and increase my stature! I even know my ‘personal GDP’.
However, I am not aware of my happiness score. I am not sure whether I should even try to measure it. I am deterred not as much by the possibility of a failure but that of success in determining my happiness score.
What if I knew my happiness score with certainty and that made me unhappy?
Would I be happy to know that my friends are happier than I am? Would this finding make me jealous of others?
Alternatively, would I be more pleased to know that my happiness levels exceed those of others? If that were to make me happy, it would also make me selfish.
Thus, my fear is that learning more about my relative happiness is likely to make me unhappy.
Perhaps, the ignorance of my happiness is the reason for my happiness.
The Happiness Report, through its title and narrative, slightly distorts the actual nature of its findings. It does so by reporting on happiness without specifically asking about happiness. They asked:
Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
This question is not as much about happiness as it is about personal accomplishments. The authors might not have intended it, but I can smell the per capita GDP hiding in this question.
When I read this question, I did not think about my life or happiness. Instead, I thought about my family, especially my children and what life I would like for them to have. Their future well-being might involve me to make personal sacrifices now and not indulge in activities that would make me happy.
Let me explain by sharing a conversation I had with a friend in New York. He has been a successful banker for years and lived in the choice neighbourhood where the Clintons moved to after they left the White House.
He told me once that if he could earn 25 per cent more than what he earned then, he would be happy. I was surprised at his reasoning. He was already a member of the top 1 per cent of the ‘1 per cent club’, and yet, his definition of happiness had left him a quarter short on the ladder.
Also read: Self help — To a happier you!
In constructing the imaginary ladders of best possible life with 10 steps, we do make a mistake in measurement.
The real ladders we know are of fixed height that we could, if we wished, scale to the top. The imaginary ladders of the best life are stretchable.
You seldom reach the top because the ladder extends even more as you climb higher.
My banker friend in New York was on a similar ladder that kept putting his happiness on even higher steps.
I don’t know how happy I am, but I know what makes me happy.
Listening to Zia Mohyeddin reading Mai Dada or Abida Parveen singing kafis makes me happy. Having nihari in Toronto makes me happy. Watching Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, or Robin Williams act makes me happy. Reading The Economist every week makes me happy. Watching my children and wife play in the snow makes me happy. Knowing my family and friends are healthy and safe makes me happy — being able to write makes me happy.
I am not at the top of the imaginary ladder that defines the best life for me. But I am glad knowing that I am not climbing any imaginary ladder.