GOING BEYOND BHUTAN’S HAPPINESS INDEX?

This article is published today in Express tribune. 4-12-19. This is actually a simplification of Dr. Asad Zaman’s article. 

It is really shocking to know that your lifetime effort was truly futile. Paradigm shifts are not easy to accept. Being a student of Economics, it was even harder to understand why we were constantly being lied to and are stilled being fed with distorted ideas which have actually nothing to do with reality. May be that is why even after absolute failure of popular Economic ideas like ‘Human development via Economic Growth’ and ‘Trickle-down effect’ etc., large number of economists internationally fail to accept counter arguments which are more realistic and closer depiction of human nature.

Prosperity or development is the core problem of Economics. Alternate routes are discussed to solve this problem. Today we live in a commercialized world where maximization of material wealth is supposed to be the apex of development. Humans have succeeded in raising living standards many folds. Today an average person is living a way more comfortable life than even kings and queens of the past. The type of material facilities available to all and sundry today like electricity, internet, ACs, transportations facilities, health and education facilities are far more advanced than before. If material wealth and standard of living improvement were the ways to real human satisfaction, then two phenomena should have been observed; first, an average person today should be happier and more content as compared to royals of the past and second, the rich people should always be happier and content as compared to the poor ones. Evidence is actually contraindicating to both these accounts.

This failure of increase in material wealth and comfort to produce human satisfaction and contentment can be explained in stepwise approach. First of all when someone gets an upward boast in his/her standard of living it brings a surge of happiness. With the passage of time this change becomes normality. Thus that sudden happiness no more exists. According to the set point theory every time we get accustomed to a new level of satisfaction, drop in this level makes us unhappy, while remaining on the same new set point, after some time we become indifferent.

Secondly even when we are on the same set point, but someone else achieves a higher set point as compared to us we become sad. This is because of the concept of comparative utility. We see ourselves in comparison to others living around us. If a person earns 50,000 pm and lives in a locality with others earning less than him he feels rich. But if he earns the same 50,000 pm but lives in a locality with others earning more than him, he feels poor and is discontented. This means that if one in a community gets to a higher set point many others will become sad. This rat race of winning in materialism creates a persistent dissatisfaction in the society, because one constantly compares oneself to others and secondly very strenuous effort and sacrifice of leisure is needed to get to higher set points.

In 1970s Richard Easterlin found that the wealthier nations of the world were actually facing increased suicide rates, depressions, alcoholism, crime and drop in life-satisfaction indicators. The only way to get out of this vicious cycle of competitive materialism is to admit the fact that ‘money does not buy happiness’ therefore it should be rejected as the yard stick of measuring success. Countries like Bhutan have therefore shifted from GNP per capita to GHI (Gross happiness index). However, this is also a mistake because happiness is not something that can be achieved by striving for it. True happiness for humans exists in family and friends. Maintaining good relationships comes with compassion and consideration for each other. Contentment is only going to be achieved with the sharing and caring humane principles instead of fostering competition.

 

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