New Delhi: Despite Russian missiles raining down on Ukraine almost every other day, in a war that has killed thousands of civilians and left millions homeless, Ukrainians are ‘happier’ than they were earlier, suggests the latest edition of the World Happiness Report (WHR).
In the 11th edition of the report released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Ukraine’s rank improved from 98 in 2019-2021 to 92 in 2020-2022 — a period coinciding with the Russian invasion. Russia’s rank too improved from 80 to 70.
India, on the other hand, ranked 126 on the index, below Nepal, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, among others.
Highlighting the variation in levels of happiness across 137 countries, findings of the survey were released on 20 March to mark the 10th anniversary since the UN General Assembly adopted the day to be observed annually as International Day of Happiness.
Through the report, the UN-funded non-profit aims to explore questions such as the kind of behaviour needed to experience happiness, the link between benevolence and happiness during the Covid-19 pandemic, state functioning’s impact on individual happiness and more by analysing six key factors: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity and perception of corruption.
“The happiness movement shows that well-being is not a ‘soft’ and ‘vague’ idea but rather focuses on areas of life of critical importance: material conditions, mental and physical wealth, personal virtues, and good citizenship,” Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist and one of the authors of the report, is quoted as saying in an article on the WHR website.
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Life value scores & Gallup World Poll
The index ranks countries’ well-being or happiness by measuring their life value scores on a scale of 1-10, across three main indicators — life evaluations, positive emotions and negative emotions. It is important to note that the scores are based on the responses of resident populations in each country, rather than their citizenship or place of birth.
For measuring life evaluations, the index relied on data from the Gallup World Poll, a survey where respondents evaluated their current life on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the ‘best possible life for them’.
Positive emotions were measured by the average of an individual’s yes or no responses about feeling any of three emotions — laughter, enjoyment, and interest. Meanwhile, to measure negative emotions, respondents were asked to choose yes or no as responses to feeling any of the three emotions, namely worry, sadness, and anger.
Looking at the methodology of the Gallup World Poll, a mix of telephone surveys of about 30 minutes and face-to-face interviews, lasting an hour, were used to gather the data.
Participants of the survey were civilians aged 15 and above, excluding those residing in institutions such as nursing homes, prisons, jails, mental hospitals, and juvenile correctional facilities. Typically, the Gallup World Poll survey includes at least 1,000 individual surveys. In larger countries, such as China and Russia, sample sizes of at least 2,000 are collected, while in rare cases, the sample size is between 500 and 1,000.
India, Sri Lanka & Pakistan
While India’s rank in the World Happiness Report improved from 136 in 2022 to 126 this year, the country is placed far below its neighbours like Sri Lanka (63), China (74) and Pakistan (108), among others.
The report also measures the difference in happiness between the top and bottom halves of a country’s population. In terms of inequality of happiness across India, the country is placed at 125, with one of the highest gaps in happiness across its population.
The report, however, does mention that averages of 22 countries in the index are based on the 2020 and 2021 surveys due to the unavailability of survey information from those countries from 2022. Among these countries are Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both of which are currently facing historic economic crises, with immense food insecurity, threatened livelihoods, and climate-induced disasters impacting the lives of citizens.
Sri Lanka also saw severe political upheaval over the past year, with anti-government protesters storming numerous government buildings, including the presidential palace in Colombo. Pakistan, meanwhile, suffered the worst floods in its history and continues to struggle with severe inflation. It is also currently seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for which it has been compelled to hike fuel and energy prices.
Another example is Iran, which has been facing severe political turmoil since the death of a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody in September 2022, causing civil unrest across the country, which continues even today. Similarly, Armenia has been engaged in a territorial dispute with its neighbour, Azerbaijan, over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region since 2020, after clashes resumed between the two countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the bloody war ended within 60 days, clashes are ongoing as of March 2023.
Looking at the top 10 countries in the report, Finland continues to be the happiest country around the world for the sixth consecutive year, while Nordic countries like Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden among others, dominated the top spots on the list with the exception of Israel which is placed fourth on the index.
On the other side of the spectrum, the unhappiest countries include Taliban-ruled Afghanistan — ranked last — with Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo joining it at the bottom of the index.
Rising resilience around the world
Between 2020 and 2022, the world saw a ‘remarkable’ rise in resilience, the SDSN’s report stated. Two crucial events impacted the world during this period — the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the report, global citizens became increasingly benevolent during this time of crisis and built stronger social connections.
Exploring the impact of the pandemic, the report reveals that “life evaluations have continued to be remarkably resilient, with global averages in the Covid-19 years 2020-2022 just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years”.
Data also showed that “benevolent acts” were 25 per cent more common around the world in 2022 than before the pandemic.
It further stated that “positive social connections and support” were twice as prevalent as loneliness in seven key countries — Brazil, France, India, US, Egypt, Indonesia and Mexico.
Looking at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both countries saw a rise in benevolence between 2020 and 2021, before the conflict began. However, after the war, Ukraine saw a sharp increase in benevolence while Russia saw a decline.
“For a second year, we see that various forms of everyday kindness, such as helping a stranger, donating to charity, and volunteering, are above pre-pandemic levels. Acts of kindness have been shown to both lead to and stem from greater happiness,” said Canadian social psychologist Lara Aknin, co-author of the report, in the article on the WHR website.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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