“People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.” The prescient British humorist Jerome K. Jerome captured the sentiment of the three billion people who live on less than US $2.5 a day today perfectly, more than a century ago, although those living a hand-to-mouth existence might have some gripe with the “easily obtained” part. When putting food on the table is a struggle (a third of all Nepalis are still under the poverty line), people have little time to dwell on whether they are happy. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Nepalis have come near the bottom of a worldwide Gallup survey to measure people’s emotions.
According to the survey, Nepalis are among the least emotional people on the planet. Gallup asked people from 150 countries if they experienced five positive and five negative emotions a lot the previous day. Negative experiences that were measured included anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry; positive emotions included feeling well-rested, being treated with respect, enjoyment, smiling and laughing a lot, and learning or doing something interesting. Thankfully, measured on this range of emotions, Nepalis are not as dour as the Singaporeans, who are the least likely people in the world to report experiencing emotions of any kind.
Besides the perpetual struggle for existence, the other big reason Nepalis are so confused about their emotional status might be their failure to come to terms with the enormous changes in their society in recent times. The country is in the grips of a wave of modernization and globalization, families are breaking down, the young cannot relate to the old. The majority of able-bodied youth are ditching the country. Old certainties have been dismantled and Nepalis from all sections of the society have only just started exploring their place in ‘New Nepal.’
Nepal will have to focus more on reducing inequalities rather than on the narrow goal of ‘poverty alleviation’.
Nepal is such a diverse country. It would be foolhardy to single out a few factors that make the majority of its people happy. But the Gallup survey gives some clear hints at the ways to harness an emotionally healthier and happier society. While higher incomes may improve people’s emotional wellbeing to an extent, the dismal emotional intelligence of Singaporeans, who are among the most prosperous people in the world, suggest there are many other factors at play behind a happy society.
Singapore might be one of the richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per person, but it is also one of the most unequal, even more so than the much-derided US. Evidence from around the world suggests an equal society is a happier society. This is the reason Nepal will have to focus more on reducing inequalities (social, educational, income), rather than on the narrow, and (often meaningless) goal of ‘poverty alleviation’. It remains to be seen if the architects of New Nepal are more adept at understanding the pressing concerns of the common people than their predecessors