In April, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan of India’s central state, Madhya Pradesh, announced plans to create a Ministry of Happiness. This new ministry will oversee the growth of the state in terms of Gross National Happiness, an alternative national development index.
In contrast to GDP, GNH measures the well-being of a nation in terms of “community, culture, governance, knowledge and wisdom, health, spirituality and psychological welfare, a balanced use of time, and harmony with the environment.”
Chief Minister Chauhan, a yoga enthusiast and a Master of Philosophy, hopes that the ministry of happiness will improve citizens’ mental and physical health.
The ministry of happiness is also set to run over 70 social programs such as yoga, meditation, spirituality, arts, and religious pilgrimages for seniors.
Building on existing programs, such as the state’s “Girl Child” program, the ministry of happiness will continue to financially reward families of female students for remaining in education. The funding will also be used to employ a team of psychologists dedicated to improving the well-being of citizens.
The ministry of happiness was proposed amid a severe drought that has left many citizens of Madhya Pradesh, a largely agrarian state, without income and has increased the rate of suicide among farmers.
In addition, Madhya Pradesh has seen 27 suicides of school-age children in the last year due to exam-related stress. The state also suffers from high rates of malnutrition, infant mortality and the highest rate of rape in the country.
Some citizens of Madhya Pradesh are skeptical of the need for a ministry of happiness, citing a lack of basic rights and resources as the main causes of suffering.
This has sparked questions about the legitimacy of government psychological and spiritual intervention. However, India is not the first government to try to track happiness.
Along similar lines, the United Nations World Happiness Report measures the well-being of populations using GDP per capita, as well as markers for social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.
In Bhutan, the birthplace of the GNH index, the commitment to a holistic measure of well-being rather than solely financial measures one has led to positive results. By prioritizing well-being over material growth, Bhutan has become an example of alternative economic growth for the rest of the world.
“GNH is an aspiration,” said Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s minister of education, “a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path toward a sustainable and equitable society. We believe the world needs to do the same before it is too late.”
The idea for a ministry of happiness demonstrates Madhya Pradesh’s commitment to these guiding principles. Heading the charge, Shivraj Singh Chauhan hopes that a new emphasis on the ideals of equality and community will improve the well-being of the state’s citizens.
– Lia Jean Ferguson