14 July, 2020

Measuring Development & Happiness

Kalpavriksha Vol 31   |  June 2020 

Measuring development & happiness 

We have come into this world and most of us have eight decades to call the earth our home.  Most of us seem to be marching to the same drumbeat – we study to get a job, some start an enterprise, we go through the motions of marriage, children, fulfilling various needs & goals, retirement and after a long time there, move to the nether world. 

While we are still about the planet, we are in a tearing hurry to get ahead. We want to move ahead on the job, be one up on Bhatnagars & Ramachandrans, buy that home, a second possibly, a third too and do the same with cars, spoil the children by pampering them in the name of giving them the “best”.  
We measure everything by the material possessions & trappings of wealth. We get hijacked by insidious comparisons with people of all hues 

This is now institutionalised at every level. The urban – rural divide is measured by how many vehicles people own per lakh or how much processed food they consume. At a global level it is measured by how many air conditioners people have in a country per million. Or even how many bottles of Colas and other sugared waters we drink per capita! This is a measure of the relative development in our world!!! 

We deduce that someone who own cars, air conditioners, washing machines are doing well in their life and are contented and happy. This statement could only be somewhat true. Firstly, material possessions do not always contribute to happiness or one’s well-being Even if they do, most of these would have been bought through loans which exerts a burden that more than negates any happiness that the product possession confers. 

Material possessions are needed & useful till a point. But for many, worldly possessions acquire an urgency beyond just their usefulness. They are acquired to signal to the world that they have arrived, to achieve parity or be one up on their friends, relatives, colleagues etc. And such is the pressure that people stretch themselves to breaking point to achieve these. It should be reasonably clear that such an approach will mostly contribute to stress & worries as opposed to conferring happiness & contentment. 

Unfortunatelyacross the globe, we are using such contemporary metrics for measuring this unbridled materialism, unmindful of the negative consequences & misery it is causing.  The countries which drink less of colas are thought to be “underdeveloped” and need to catch up! 

The unsustainable American model of overemphasising spending, overconsumption in everything, prodigious waste, use & throw culture etc. has contributed to massive environmental degradation. Due to this, US is highest in environmental polluter per capita, in every areaYet, we continue to use those very flawed western yardsticks to measure progress. 

Are Americans really happy? I do not know. But consider these statistics. US Govt debt is USD 24 trillion. US private debt is about USD 36 trillion. US GDP is about USD 19 trillion. The Global Superpower is the most heavily indebted nation in the world. They are afloat only because US Dollar till date is the fiat currency & they keep printing more and more of it – heard of “Quantitative easing”? Do you think they can be happy? 

US is the richest country in the world, right? By GDP & by the relatively high per capita income?   

Yet, the average American is drowning in debt. The student debt is USD 1.2 trillion. Students are not able to pay and there are lots of defaults. Students look for sugar daddies to put them through education. This is veiled prostitution.  

The predominant majority are living from paycheck to paycheck. That is why they do not want lockdowns. I have read recently that about 70% Americans do not even have USD 1000 in their bank account! These are not poor people poor people number about 40 million in US ) – they are from the middle class. 

The predominant majority have not saved enough for retirement – infact, they have saved nowhere near what they need in retirement. Consequently, they continue to work into their seventies and eighties.  Happiness and contentment ? You see that a lot in Hollywood movies! 

If GDP as a measure is for the most part a flawed metric, should we be flogging it still? Should we moan & brood over the shrinkage of GDP in these crisis times? Should we even bother about that over human costs & consequences of the crisis. GDP & stock markets hardly reflect people’s well-being, in any country.  

Should we not use these times to get an insight into what is it we truly want from life?  

Should we not be truly concerned about environment, as opposed to the drama of the likes of Greta Thunberg ( whose conspicuous consumption & her hypocrisy has been exposed )… or by luminaries like Al Gore ( Former US Vice President & an “environmentalist, whose household consumption was 30,000 units a month, which was 30 times of even wasteful American standards )?  

Read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, a novel about Environmentalists & their diabolical designs. 

Coming back, can we not focus on what we want from life? Don’t we all want to be happy & enjoy peace, above all? Don’t we all want to pursue a meaningful life, full of vibrant energy & amazing possibilities ?  

We should. We have just one life. We need to make that count. This was the crux of Life Planning about which I had written earlier.  

Like Bhutan, we need to measure Gross National Happiness. Even if it does not ever have a chance of becoming a metric to measure progress globally, this is truly what we need. Let us atleast pursue that at a personal level. Afterall, are we all not in the pursuit of happiness?