Happiness Index: Surely we can do better than 51st spot

It is gratifying that the United Nations has finally come out with its World Happiness Report. This is a relatively new concept and Malaysia should have done better than coming out 51 out of 156 countries.

We can adopt our own Malaysian Happiness Index.

For too long, people all over the world have asked whether economic reports issued by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international and regional bodies have covered the socio-economic progress of nations and the welfare and wellbeing of their peoples.

World economic growth has expanded rapidly, but income disparities and inequality in the standard of living and quality of life have caused decreasing human happiness.

Human happiness, which is supposed to be the goal of economic growth and more equitable income distribution, has been neglected. Instead, economic growth has been unduly emphasised at the expense of the welfare of the majority of humankind, who are poor and feel alienated and even marginalised. This sad trend has been happening in Malaysia, too.

The preoccupation with economic growth and material gains on the part of governments and Big Business, especially multinationals, has also contributed to the erosion of human rights. Even Malaysia has not acceded to many UN Human Rights conventions.

Even in developed countries, ordinary people, the so called 99 per cent, are fighting for a fairer deal from the rich one per cent, who are believed to be taking advantage of the majority.

Hence, the wide movements to Occupy Wall Street and the violent reactions we see in many places around the world, like the Arab Spring in the Middle East.

So what is the way forward?

The UN has made a good start in taking the initiative to transform economic and business philosophies that we have all inherited from the past.

Why can’t we be more accountable to the majority of mankind by promoting greater integrity in our governance, policies and practices, and to seek more benefits and fairness for the majority of our people?

Instead of taking pride in high economic growth rates, why don’t we also ask: how can we improve our Happiness Index?

It appears from the UN Happiness Report that there is a strong correlation between countries with good governance and the Happiness Index. Citizens want more equitable income distribution and better basic needs and human rights.

Why are these aspirations not fulfilled? Is it because of the vested interests of the elite minority and the rich?

It is incumbent upon all governments and political leaders to take into account the majority aspirations of the people in the interests of peace, progress and national unity.

After all, we say that we are a blessed country. We are free of natural disasters, have considerable natural resources and plenty of land for habitation and cultivation. We are blessed with a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society.

With all these blessings, it is a pity that we rank only No. 51 out of 156 countries. Surely we can do better?

Here’s what can we do to rank higher in the World Happiness Report:

The government has to recognise the UN Happiness Report and to improve our ranking. We can even adopt our own Malaysian Happiness Index (MHI), based on the UN index.

There should be an Annual Happiness Report for Malaysia that can incorporate some of the key elements of the government’s transformation programmes.

A new Malaysian Annual Happiness Report could be tabled in Parliament, together with the annual budgets and the Treasury economic reports.

There should be wide consultations with the public on what should constitute the MHI and how it is to be assessed to gain public support and confidence.

The prime minister’s clarion call, “People First, Performance Now”, will be facilitated with the adoption, of the MHI.

We can, together with the pioneering little mountain state of Bhutan, lead the way in the practice of moderation in the new equitable economics of the future in the interests of greater peace, stability and harmony all over the world.

Can Malaysia take up this challenge to adopt the UN Happiness Report and establish our own MHI? Yes, we can, and we should.

Article published in The News Straits Times.

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