Happiness and Sustainable Development in India

saurabh sood • 7 October 2018


Malvya Chintakindi and Saurabh Sood

Development Research and Policy Initiatives Sehgal Foundation


      The global goals towards a sustainable future recognize a strong social dimension in development. Social sustainability in development is not a well understood aspect, and calls for approaching this subject from a variety of lenses including rights, justice and equity frameworks. While the means to promote social sustainability has garnered much attention of the global development research community, people’s perspectives towards development goals should be focused upon. An initiative in this regard has been the setting up of Commission for Social Development for Sustainable Development by the United Nations that looks at advocating a human development approach in policy making. A people’s centered approach to development draws from the three pillars of social sustainability (economic, environmental and social) and gives due emphasis on opportunities presented to each individual to lead a meaningful life.

      Governance as an institution is held accountable to steer policies and thereby regulate the sustainable outcomes of development. Its participatory characteristic presents a vibrant opportunity for people to shape the value system of the society. However, an equally essential expectation from good governance is its ability to fulfill the promise of providing a prosperous life. Socially relevant governance and policy making would go beyond materialistic indicators of human development to include an individual’s, or a community’s psychological and social well-being.

      Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index is an inspiring initiative in this regard and has been much praised by the global development community for its focus on ‘What makes the Bhutanese happy?’. This people centered approach is based on four pillars: Good Governance, Sustainable Socio-economic Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Environmental Conservation. India has made stupendous progress in economic growth and political inclusion of the masses. The largest democracy in the world has a lot to learn from Bhutan’s radical commitment to social policy based on human development approach.

      In 2016, Madhya Pradesh became the first state in India to set up a Happiness Department to ensure ‘happiness in the lives of the common people’. Announcing the ‘Happiness Department’ in April 2016, the head of this Department said that happiness will not come into the lives of people merely with materialistic possessions or development but by infusing positivity in their lives so that they don’t take extreme steps like suicide. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh became the second state in India to introduce an exclusive ministry for happiness in April 2017. The objective of this ministry is to ensure all-round development of people, including their psychological well-being, health, usage of their time, education etc, besides gauging their satisfaction over implementation of the government programs.

      The World Happiness Report (WHR) 2018, released earlier in 2018 by the United Nations, had some grim news for India. Of the 156 countries, India ranked 133, which is a steady decline from 111 in 2013. Led by Finland, the Scandinavian countries topped the charts. WHR is based on a Gallup survey where respondents are asked to rate their lives on a scale of 1 to 10, with 0 being the worst possible life. Though there are plenty affirmative and negative arguments regarding this survey methodology, its indicators and the context of various countries, what stands out is the growing importance of catering to people’s happiness rather than just implementing social welfare schemes.

      Including ‘happiness as a social value ’(social dimension) and the method of measuring it to make it an evidence based case for its inclusion in the designing of government policies is of utmost importance. This can be achieved by advocating use of parameters like GNH in Indian governance circles. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of ‘happiness, and what it means’ for those from rural India as well as highlighting their aspirations and values is the necessary first step to build an enabling governance system. Such a governance system will be able to exercise its responsibility to provide a prosperous and dignified life as promised by the Indian Constitution.

      We at Sehgal Foundation run a rural governance initiative called Good Rural Governance that provides individual citizens and the leaders of village-level institutions with knowledge, skills, and confidence to become informed, active self-advocates for the development of their communities. Click on the link to read more: http://www.smsfoundation.org/good-rural-governance