The latest world happiness report released on March 20, 2017 ranks Bhutan (score 5.011) at 97, Nepal (4.962) at 99, Bangladesh (4.608) at 110, Sri Lanka (4.44) at 120, India (4.315) at 122 and Afghanistan (3.794) at 141 among 155 nations surveyed.
Norway (7.537) has the highest score that combines economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to 2016. Denmark (7.522) ranks second followed by Iceland (7.504), Switzerland (7.494) and Finland (7.469) making the top 5.
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At the bottom are Sub-Saharan African nations of Tanzania (3.349) at 153, Burundi (2.905) at 154 and Central African Republic (2.693) at 155. War-torn Syria (3.462) is at 152.
World Happiness Report 2017 offers the following rationale for its annual happiness measurement exercise:
"The first World Happiness Report was published in April, 2012, in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since then we have come a long way. Happiness is increasingly considered the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016, the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the centre of governments’ efforts”.1 In a recent speech, the head of the UN Development Program (UNDP) spoke against what she called the “tyranny of GDP”, arguing that what matters is the quality of growth.“ Paying more attention to happiness should be part of our efforts to achieve both human and sustainable development” she said."
The survey uses Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, developed by pioneering social researcher Dr. Hadley Cantril, consisting of the following:
1. Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
2. 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.
3. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
4. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?
In addition to the answers to Cantril questions, the survey considers the following six variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.
Here's another excerpt of the latest World Happiness Report:
Here's another excerpt of the World Happiness Report emphasizing social factors influencing happiness:
"A household’s income counts for life satisfaction, but only in a limited way. Other things matter more: community trust, mental and physical health, and the quality of governance and rule of law. Raising incomes can raise happiness, especially in poor societies, but fostering cooperation and community can do even more, especially in rich societies that have a low marginal utility of income. It is no accident that the happiest countries in the world tend to be high-income countries that also have a high degree of social equality, trust, and quality of governance. In recent years, Denmark has been topping the list. And it’s no accident that the U.S. has experienced no rise of life satisfaction for half a century, a period in which inequality has soared, social trust has declined, and the public has lost faith in its government."
Going by regions, European and North American nations are at the top of the list while sub-Saharan African nations are at the bottom. The rest of the world is in the middle.
In addition to median income and wealth, the prevalence of depression is among the key factors determining a country's happiness or the lack of it. The World Happiness Report 2015 noted that Pakistan has made significant efforts in treating rural women's depression. Here's an excerpt from the report:
"Community health workers (Lady Health Workers) were trained to identify and treat maternal depression, using a CBT-based ( intervention (the Thinking Healthy Program). The initiative used 16 home-based individual sessions and included active listening, collaboration with the family, guided discovery and homework (Cognitive Behavioral Therapists) is, trying things out between sessions, practicing what was learned). Forty local areas were assigned to either intervention or routine care, with about 450 mothers in each group. At follow-up sessions (after six months) the experimental group included 23% still depressed, compared with 53% in the control group. In another study, psychoeducation is being offered to all mothers."
A Lancet paper describes the mental health intervention as follows:
"Lady Health Workers (LHWs) were trained to deliver a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) based intervention to depressed women, beginning in the last trimester of pregnancy and ending at 10 months postpartum. The intervention is based in a psychosocial model and not presented as a ‘treatment’ for a ‘mental health problem’ but rather as way to improve positive and healthy thinking around the mother and the baby. The actual delivery of the intervention was integrated into the routine work of the existing community health worker – called Lady Health Worker (LHW) and delivered at the women’s’ home. LHWs are mainly responsible for maternal and child health care".
The Lady Health Workers (LHW) program in Pakistan has been described as “one of the best community-based health systems in the world” by Dr. Donald Thea, a Boston University researcher and one of the authors of a recent Lancet study on child pneumonia treatment in Pakistan. He talked with the New York Times about the study.
Pakistan's relatively lower levels of depression and suicides (less than 3 per 100,000) in South Asia are reflected in the region's suicide statistics. A 2013 scientific paper titled "Mental Depression of Indian Women" published in "Anthropology" described the situation in India as follows: "Suicidal rate in India is higher comparing to other countries in the world. In each year over a half million people put their own lives down globally, of them 20% are Indians (17% of world population). However, during last two decades the rate of suicide has increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000".
India's youth suicide rate of 30-40 per 100,000 is among the highest in the world, according to a Lancet study. In addition, Indian farmers' suicides are continuing unabated at a rate of one every 30 minutes for the last two decades.
The problem of suicides appears to be at least in part due to the fact that India's value added agriculture continues be among the lowest in the world. Unlike India, Pakistan managed to significantly raise agriculture productivity and rural incomes in 1980s through a livestock revolution. Economic activity in dairy, meat and poultry sectors now accounts for just over 50% of the nation's total agricultural output. The result is that per capita value added to agriculture in Pakistan is almost twice as much as that in Bangladesh and India.
The key to improving happiness in developing countries like India and Pakistan is to focus on meeting basic needs such as education, nutrition and hygiene, in addition to addressing issues of health, including mental health.