As we remain glued to the daily evening feed of news on the Covid-19 infections and death counts, we may have neglected the people’s happiness level.
National happiness counts in the battle against the Covid pandemic.
The glue that holds together the various areas of our nationhood – politics, social and economic progress, and environmental balance – is our happiness.
When our political landscape is riddled with humongous corruption allegations and legal battles, happiness sinks.
When our democratic political landscape is clawed away by a coup-styled, backdoor government, happiness takes flight.
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Today, if there is a phrase to describe our current political predicament, it has to be ‘messed up’.
On the economic front, we have little spare money for national and household expenditure. Jobs are lost; bills pile up and loans cannot be repaid; businesses are folding up and people are living from day to day.
Then, we hear allegations through the ‘unofficial’ grapevine of centuries-old caves being flatted, talk of mineral extraction inside huge forest reserves, sand mining and exports, and ‘secret’ pacts involving large sums of money.
Our happiness levels can only sink further, as long as there is no official news from the government to prove that such allegations are baseless.
On the social landscape, we see our happiness slipping away like quicksand – quietly but surely.
The occasional reports of aid to the homeless and destitute, the setting up of food kitchens and even the government’s directive that all NGO efforts must now be coordinated suggest widespread suffering.
We do not have reliable public statistics on suicide rates and people succumbing to mental illness.
We do not have reports by the month of the number of people who have sought medical attention in public hospitals – especially those who need specialist care and medical investigation or surgery – only to have their needs put on hold.
Segments of the middle class are fast sinking to the lower-income group. This is a hidden truth.
The quality of education looks very much like a dream that has now vaporised, given the latest international rankings.
Meanwhile, religious divisiveness, increasing dogmatisation and religious-surveillance are contributing to sinking happiness levels.
And as we continue to lose our gifts of nature to business barons and vested interests – as our mountains are laid bare, as our rivers dry up or our caves eliminated – how can we ever be a happy nation?
Unfortunately, no one is seriously looking at the country’s happiness index.
Of course, we cannot compare ourselves to the kingdom of Bhutan, whose king puts the people’s happiness above all the other pillars of the nation.
And we are far from the Maoris of New Zealand, who maintain a happiness-balance in their life philosophy of ‘when you care for the land, the land cares for the people’.
But the least we can do is to bring the subject of national happiness into our public discourse and policymaking and as a national priority. We must place the people’s happiness as our key measure of success in building a nation.
Failure to acknowledge that our level of happiness has plunged to perhaps its lowest level since independence is the first, sure step along the path to a failed state.