Last March, the World Happiness Report of 2020 ranked 156 countries according to how happy their citizens are. For three years now, Finland has been consistently at the top of the list because of its high GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, sustainable economic development, ecological balance, strong social security, excellent healthcare system, free education, press freedom, gender equality, and trustworthiness of social, cultural, and political institutions.
Surprisingly, Finland is also among the countries with the highest suicide rate. Many of its citizens struggle with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. Perhaps, the set of criteria used in the World Happiness Report does not accurately measure happiness.
Several years ago, Bhutan was considered as the happiest country in the world. But instead of measuring the happiness of its citizens solely in terms of health, education, culture, good governance, ecology, living standards, and GDP, Bhutan focused on determining its GNH (Gross National Happiness) by asking its citizens in a nationwide survey: Do you meditate? How frequently do you pray?How much time to you devote to your family and community? How many hours do you spend working? How often to you quarrel with your family members? How long do you stay away from them? Do you trust your neighbors? The people of Bhutan believe that happiness depends more on spiritual and relational values that transcend material prosperity and security.
Following the example of Bhutan, the government of Delhi, India, had decided to include a “Happiness curriculum” in basic education for children from grades one to eight. Since July, 2018, their curriculum has focused on helping students develop simplicity, mindfulness, love for prayer, generosity, kindness and benevolence, as well as virtues that enhance a good relationship with the self, the family, society, nature, and a transcendent being or God.These are considered the most important factors to attain happiness.
Yale University has also introduced a course on happiness, emphasizing similar elements, and when they offered it online, around 600,000 people signed up.
A reality check though. Just as we cannot prolong happiness, we are also incapable of measuring happiness. Nobody has yet invented a happy mometer that can accurately determine the extent, depth, intensity, breadth, and duration of someone’s happiness. The people of an industrialized country may act as though they have no financial and health problems, and people in poor countries may always be smiling and laughing — but are these sure indications of happiness? Appearances are deceptive.
Maybe what we need to measure is not happiness, but how prepared we are for it. The important question is not “How happy are we?” but rather “Are we disposing ourselves for happiness?”
Happiness has become quite elusive today because we think of it as an end-product, a result of what we do. Happiness, in short, is something that we desire from afar. And because we think of it as something forthcoming, we become unresponsive to it the moment it is at hand. We work hard to be happy, only to discover that we have lost our capacity to enjoy it when it is there.
Many people in Finland, considered as the happiest country in the world, remain unhappy even if they have what it takes to be happy. Meanwhile, the people of Bhutan, a country ranked this year as only 95th in the list because of its low GDP, consider themselves happy despite their lack of material wealth.
Perhaps, without their knowing it, the people of Bhutan practice the lesson taught in today’s gospel reading about the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). They dispose themselves to a blissful existence by discarding the idea that life is a road stretching towards a shining goal called perfect bliss. They believe that happiness is not something that will happen to them in the future. They make it happen NOW by deciding to be happy no matter what the circumstances of their life are.