The Concept of ‘Being Happy’ in India 

India, spanning across 29 states and 8 union territories, offers unique ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. While taking a stroll in the streets of India, one can see people doing their daily stuff, whatever that is. Or they are just standing and sitting around talking in a large group of people. Whatever they are engaged in, one thing is universal. They seem to be relaxed in whatever they do and be at peace with themselves and the environment. It is as if they don’t need the word ‘happy’ in their vocabulary to feel good and relaxed: they are fine with how it is. In India, happiness is not an abstract term. that people all intend to have as their life’s goal.

Maybe the Indian version of happiness has something to do with the present activities. Maybe being happy is just equivalent to being yourself. It’s more about not wishing for anything else and not to have big desires for which we would be willing to give something dear but to find these desires and happiness in the things we already have and as a result be grateful and at peace. Maybe it is acceptance of what is instead of hoping for what may be. 

Happiness, Well-being and Human Development

It is quite understandable that the ultimate objective of social and economic development is to provide improvements in the lives of men and women who generate employment now and the younger generation who we hope will generate in the future. This makes the idea of well-being universal: achieving a state of well-being has to be inclusive everywhere, whether in developed or developing countries (OECD, 2015).

Well-being is a focal concept: human well-being provides a means of understanding the growing relationships between apparently diverse ideas and issues that abound as and often appear to compete, in the international agendas. The proper study of human well-being provides a possible way to map out the relationship between poverty and sustainability as it helps us to explore the relationship between various economic dimensions and development such as productivity and efficiency, social cohesion and governance which are vital for the successful overall development (OECD, 2015).

Following the need to study the relevance of happiness, well-being and human development, various methodologies were developed in the international conferences and meetings of the United Nations (UN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These methodologies presented frameworks that incorporated the socio-economic indicators which can be used to assess the improvements in human well-being. One of the innovations suggested by the well-being approach saw human well-being as a holistic phenomenon. The framework which was put forward by OECD was known as ‘How is Life’ framework. This provides a good example of this multidimensional approach to measuring human well-being that can be used to discuss its relevance for developing countries.

‘How is Life’ Framework
‘How is Life’ Framework | Source: OECD

The above figure depicts the process of the OECDs ‘How is Life’ framework which involves three categories of variables. These three categories are listed below: 

  • Material Conditions
  • Quality of Life
  • Sustainability 

Within each of these three categories, there are a certain set of variables upon which data is assembled. Under ‘Material Conditions’ following three variables are listed:

  • Income and wealth
  • Jobs and earnings
  • Housing 

The variables included in the category ‘Quality of Life’ are listed below:

  • Health status
  • Work and life balance
  • Education and skills
  • Social connections
  • Civic engagement and governance
  • Environmental quality
  • Personal security
  • Subjective well-being

In the last ‘Sustainability’ category there are four types of capitals which are identified as being significant for the process that produces both material well-being and quality of life outcomes. These are listed below:

  • Natural capital
  • Economic capital
  • Human capital
  • Social capita

Thus the major innovation will lie in the integrated adoption of a multidimensional approach to understanding progress which integrally considers people’s subjective evaluation of their quality of life. 

Subjective Well-being as an Alternate Tool for Policy Evaluation

In recent times, subjective wellbeing measures have established themselves as reliable alternatives to standard economic indicators of welfare. Intertest in subjective metrics have been largely driven by the growing dissatisfaction with the conventional use of objective indicators like GDP to evaluate the impact of economic activities on public and private sector decision making. This has led international organisations such as the UN and OECD to advise against using the GDP as a measure of economic progress as it does not capture the outcomes that matter to the well-being of the people. 

Today, the governments in places like New Zealand, Wales, Iceland and Scotland have advocated and justified the use of subjective well-being matrices in evaluating public policy. As a result of which these countries have recently established the Wellbeing Economy Governments Alliance (WEGO) that aims to promote and share their expertise and transferable policy practices in regard to subjective well-being (Wiking, 2020).

The core benefit of using subjective well-being is that it measures individual experience by directly asking people to report how they feel about their lives. This is in contrast to the conventional economic metrics like inflation rate, unemployment rate and GDP per capita that focus instead on people’s market behaviour. The measures of subjective well-being have proven to be reliable across varying contexts. They remain stable over time, correlate with the third party, associate with physiological makers, respond to life changes and even help in predicting future socio-economic behaviour of individuals including suicide. 

It is observed that the United Nations for the last eight years has published national rankings of subjective wellbeing in their World Happiness Report. These well-being measures have proven to be aligned with economic objective country conditions, including GDP per capita, life expectancy and levels of corruption. Subjective wellbeing metrics are therefore poised to reveal important underlying dynamics that can help us to understand how people have felt and behaved during the COVID-19 pandemic (Wiking, 2020). 

The Lessons Learnt From Nordic Countries

From 2013 till today, every time the World Happiness Report (WHR) has published its annual ranking of countries, the five Nordic countries- Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland have all been placed in the top ten with Nordic countries occupying the top three spots in 2017, 2018 and 2019. It is of no doubt that whether we look at the state of democracy, structure of political institutions, lack of corruption, social cohesion, trust between the citizens, gender equality or Human Development Index, one can easily find the Nordic countries in the global top spots (Martela & Greve, 2020). 

There has been a lot of research done on finding the reasons that make Nordic citizens so exceptionally satisfied with their lives. Through reviewing the existing literature the prominent factors responsible for the happiness of Nordic citizens include quality of institutions, low corruption and proper well-functioning of democracy and political institutions. In addition, Nordic citizens experience a high sense of freedom as well as high levels of social trust among each other that play a significant role in determining life satisfaction (Martela & Greve, 2020). 

Denmark is one of the top five happiest nations in the world. It has consistently remained in the top three global spots in the World Happiness Report. Comparing the Indian and Danish GDP, the GDP growth rate of Denmark averaged 0.40% from 1991 to 2018 while the annual growth rate of India’s GDP averaged at 6.61% from 1951 to 2018 (Trading Economics, 2019). Indian economy is much larger as compared to Danish economy. However, there are other factors than financial prosperity and GDP that makes the Danish people among the top happiest in the world. 

If India has to go the Nordic way, it can adopt some features of the happy country as mentioned in Figure 2. It clearly depicts that Denmark does simple things elegantly and makes it the motto of their life. They seek happiness in the small happening of their life and build a hyggelig environment around themselves (Sarkar, 2018). 

Weaving the Path for India to Follow the Nordic Happiness Way: A Long Way Ahead

The happiness of the citizens in India needs to follow a six-pronged strategy to go the Nordic way of living and can be counted as a happy nation in near future. This strategy is depicted in the figure below:

happiness in india
Six Pronged Strategy for India to Go the Nordic Way | Source: Author’s own compilation

Indian policymakers should carefully observe how education, transport, health and social policies will affect the happiness of citizens. Furthermore, policies that aim to promote public cooperation and equality are equally likely helpful in increasing the subjective indicators of well-being like longevity. India has been a place for poverty research for a very long period of time. With the appropriate policies in place, maybe it could become a laboratory to study happiness one day. 


Martela, F., & Greve, B. (2020, March 20). The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World. World Happiness Report.


Sarkar, D. D. (2018, April 13). India and the happiness quotient. Mint.

Trading Economics. (2019, August 4). Denmark and India-Economic Indicators. Trading Economics.

Wiking, M. (2020, June 20). Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19. Happiness Research Institute.

Pragya Singh

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