In the pursuit of happiness

MALAYSIA is on 42nd place (out of 155 countries) in the Fifth World Happiness Index released recently by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

But we could have fared much better with some adjustments to our policies.

The director of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs who also heads the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, which is financed by a US$10mil grant from the not-for-profit Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and housed at Sunway University in Subang Jaya, is well known to Malaysians.

Prof Sachs has recommended that all nations follow the United Arab Emirates example and appoint a minister of happiness.

With our ranking, will this help us? Do we need to a minister of happiness?

Since happiness is what we all seek in life, why not give it more priority when formulating our policies and practices?

What is the use of pursuing economic growth per se if the majority of our people are not happy enough? Of course, we can appoint a minister of happiness but we need more comprehensive and focused policies that are properly evolved and implemented to ensure that the poor rakyat and not just the rich and powerful are happier.

I would agree that Malaysia should appoint a minister of happiness. To start with and to explore all possibilities, we can have a minister of national unity and happiness. Then we can develop the art of providing happiness and graduate to a full ministry of happiness when we are more prepared.

In the meantime, the Finance Ministry, Department of National Unity or the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) could establish a happiness monitoring centre to oversee the introduction and implementation of pro-happiness policies and measures nationwide. Ministries that promote measures which cause public unhappiness could be penalised by cutting their budget allocations. After all, why do we want to use taxpayers’ money to perpetuate unhappiness?

According to Prof Sachs, happiness is caused by six factors, namely income per capita, healthy life expectancy, freedoms, generosity, social support and absence of corruption.

From the above, we can understand our position on the list.

For instance, our incomes are low and with inflation rising and wages being slow to rise, happiness has declined. The education system must be revamped to churn out more high-skilled graduates so that we can have excellent scores in education quality indices like Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and QS rankings.

Our health life expectancy has improved considerably but our fundamental freedoms could have brought us down. This crucial matter should be carefully studied by our government and its agencies.

Generosity would have been reasonably high with our protective policies, BR1M and rising safety nets.

Similarly, for our state and stage of development, our score on social support would have been fair, what with our better health facilities, minimum wage, and etc.

However, corruption would have pulled down our score on the happiness index. Unless we take more drastic action to arrest corruption according to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, we will become more unhappy as a nation and people.

How can Malaysia be happier? We need to take the UN-sponsored happiness index more seriously. We could compare and relate our Malaysian Well-Being Index with the UN Happiness Report Index for compatibility and enhancement of both indices.

Prof Sachs’ recommendation to appoint a minister of happiness could be adopted at some stage.

The Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development could work more closely with the EPU and other government agencies to see how our happiness ranking could be improved.

There should be more discussions among government officials and NGOs, the Jeffrey Sachs Center and academia on how to improve our happiness index.

Finally, the emphasis on economic growth should be gradually shifted to providing more happiness to Malaysians. Higher incomes alone will not give us happiness, as man shall not live by bread alone.

So let’s pursue more happiness for our people!

Article published in the Sun Daily, Free Malaysia Today, The Star, and the New Straits Times.

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