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July 13, 2019

The ministry of happiness

Opinion

July 13, 2019

Orwell said “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better”. Nothing could be truer in the case of us Pakistanis for we seem to seek happiness while willingly fritter away our freedoms.

According to Panos Mourdoukoutas, professor and chair of the department of economics at LIU in New York, Pakistan jumped from 80th to 67th on a list of 156 countries on the World Happiness Index announced earlier this year, whereas India ranked 140th on the list. In his article published in Forbes magazine, Moudoukoutas analyses that although India is a democracy that has yet to be interrupted by military coups, it has an equity market heading north compared to Pakistan’s equities which are spiraling south and an economy outperforming in a number of metrics.

According to him, the reason Pakistan is placed higher on the World Happiness Index, beating India by such a wide margin, is the fact that during the past couple of years the government of Pakistan spent a great deal on welfare programs for the general uplift of people. “Pakistan has been getting ahead of India in spreading the wealth to the masses” he says.

That was then. This is now. Sitting across the table from a bunch of disillusioned and disgruntled youth at a local coffee shop, hearing them talking, not about art, culture, films or books but increase in taxes, inflation, price hikes, dollar rates, unemployment and a general sense of despondency made me wonder about the current happiness index in Pakistan.

The word on the streets is not positive. All people are talking about the inflation caused by the escalating devaluation of Pak rupee, which translates into a price hike in the normal consumer items. The PTI assumed power on the slogans of providing employment, cheap housing, peppered with all the beautiful words sloganeers use for their election campaigns, along with free concerts for the public. But now when it’s time to walk the talk, the entire cabinet appears clueless. According to experts commenting on the maiden budget presented by the government, the budget would contract the already troubled economy, resulting in job losses, higher inflation rates and finally a heavy toll on the people struggling to make ends meet.

‘The pursuit of happiness’ is a Jeffersonian principle enshrined in the constitution of the United States as a right of the citizens. Other countries are now catching up and also trying to make their citizens happy.

Bhutan, a tiny kingdom nestled in the Himalayas, has now enshrined the pursuit of happiness for every citizen in article 9 of the country’s constitution, becoming the first country to adopt such a resolution.

On February 10, 2016 the UAE prime minister announced the appointment of Ohoud Al Roumi as the first minister of state for happiness, the sole aim of the ministry being to initiate a National Happiness and Positivity Program not only at the government level but also in the private sector.

In July 2016, Madhya Pradesh, a state in India, announced setting up a ministry of happiness to put a smile on everyone’s face. The new ministry’s sole purpose is to track the growth in a manner based on Bhutan’s concept of gross national happiness. Madhya Pradesh, beside being one of India’s poorest and most agrarian states, also has the country’s third highest suicide rate. Madhya Pradesh also has the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality rate as well as malnutrition.

The present economic hardship coupled with depression rates in Pakistan makes it a volatile cocktail. According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan is facing a mental health crisis, with rates of depression four times higher than the rest of the world. Since financial woes precipitate depression – and being in debt, broke and unemployed are all precursors to depression – maybe it’s time the ‘Tabdeeli’ brigade sets up a ‘Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ to ease the pain of the masses.

I am sure this government will chalk out an excellent plan since its ministers seem quite capable of making people miserable and happy at the same time. They desperately need something like this to act as an anodyne and infuse some semblance of happiness while black clouds of hopelessness float above us.

These days Pakistanis are consumed by wayward thoughts of new taxes being imposed by the government. In theory, the purpose of such a ministry would be to improve the level of happiness in the country through a variety of policies measuring the effectiveness of the government’s various social welfare programs, if there are any in sight.

But in reality, it will just be another lie that becomes the truth, just another illusion that becomes reality.

The writer is a freelance consultantworking on health and the environment.

Email: [email protected]