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Why Nepal might not be the happiest country in South Asia? A Closer Look

Considering the political instability, economic challenges, and environmental issues the actual figure might be different.

Antah Yog

Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz/Pixabay

The rate of inflation has been rising. Governance falls short of expectations. Political conflict is a common occurrence. There is no improvement in the perception index of corruption. The delivery of government services has remained subpar. The rate of unemployment is high. The pandemic caused massive destruction. The majority of economic indices are negative. Yet, Nepalese are the happiest in South Asia.

A recent survey conducted by the United Nations has listed Nepal as the happiest country in South Asia, with a ranking of 84th globally, way ahead of its neighboring countries, Bangladesh (94), Pakistan (121), Sri Lanka (127), India (136), and Afghanistan (146).

The survey results have created a buzz in the Nepalese community and on social media, with many people celebrating the country’s achievements. However, some critics have raised concerns over the sample size and the people surveyed, suggesting that the survey results might not be reliable.

The World Happiness Report is a Sustainable Development Solutions Network publication powered by the Gallup World Poll data. It contains articles and rankings of national happiness based on respondent ratings of their own lives, which the report also correlates with various (quality of) life factors.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Happiness Report, which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their own lives in more than 150 countries worldwide. Various foundations and organizations support the report.

The study is based on the Gallup World Poll, in which respondents are asked to rate their current life using the mental image of a ladder, with 10 being the best conceivable life and zero representing the worst. Each respondent delivers a numeric response on this scale, termed the Cantril ladder.

The concept of the happiness report arose from a discussion that growth in economic indicators alone is insufficient to quantify people’s happiness and that well-being and personal choices in life are equally significant.

According to anthropologists and sociologists, the only way for individuals to become happier is if their lives improve, which does not appear to be the case.

Finland has led the most recent standings for the fifth year running. Once again, the other major Nordic nations rank among the top ten, significantly ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

However, the report is not based on a single factor. The authors have identified six variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life decisions, generosity, and sense of corruption.

Respondents are asked to evaluate their life evaluations and positive and negative emotions during the survey.

The Human Development Index, compiled by the United Nations, is regarded as the most exhaustive measure of living quality. Despite improvements throughout the years, Nepal’s HDI ranking remains poor.

Released after a two-year gap, the 2022 Report puts the country in the Medium human development category. While Nepal improved its ranking from 144th to 143rd, the Human Development Index (HDI) value has marginally declined from 0.604 to 0.602 due to continued turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living.

The gross domestic product, one of the most important economic performance and growth indicators, has not increased significantly. The political situation has not changed. Service seekers are afflicted worldwide. Not much has been done to improve people’s standard of living.

The report states, “This generosity has provided significant support for the life assessments of donors, recipients, and onlookers, who have been pleased to see their community’s willingness to help one other in times of need.” In every global location, the share of people who donate money to charity, assist strangers, and perform volunteer work has increased significantly.

Bhutan is credited in the study with increasing international interest in happiness. However, it has not ranked the nation this time because “Gallup has not conducted a national survey in recent years.”

According to the 2023 World Happiness Report, Finland leads the ranking of the world’s happiest countries for the sixth year in a row with a score of 7.82. A sizeable chunk of the top ten roundups is also Nordic, with Denmark in second place (7.63), Iceland in third (7.55), Switzerland in fourth (7.51), Netherlands in fifth (7.41), Luxembourg in sixth (7.40), Sweden in seventh (7.38), Norway in eighth (7.36), Israel in ninth (7.36) and New Zealand in tenth (7.20).

At the bottom of the World Happiness Ranking are Zimbabwe (2.99), Lebanon (2.95), and Afghanistan (2.40).

Let us explore why Nepal might not be the happiest country in South Asia despite its high ranking.

Methodology of the UN Survey

The World Happiness Report is a survey conducted by the United Nations, which measures people’s happiness across the globe based on factors such as income, social support, life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption.

The survey aims to provide an understanding of the state of happiness in the world and how it varies between countries and regions. Despite the positive implications of the survey results for Nepal, some experts have raised concerns about the methodology and sample size of the survey.

The survey is based on responses from around 1,000 people from each country, irrespective of their population size. Some critics have argued that the sample size is too small to represent a country’s entire population accurately and that the people surveyed might not be representative. Therefore, the survey results might not be entirely reliable.

Political Instability

Nepal has had a long history of political instability, including a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006. In recent years, the country has witnessed protests and unrest about adopting a new constitution, leading to a political stalemate. Such instability can significantly impact people’s well-being, leading to anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.

Economic Challenges

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of just $1,362 in 2023. The country faces significant economic challenges, including high unemployment, low levels of industrialization, and a heavy reliance on foreign aid. These factors can harm people’s quality of life and sense of happiness. According to the Nepal Labor Migration Report 2022, the total number of new and renewed labor approvals was 6,30,089, much greater than the 2021 report of 1,66,689.

Environmental Issues

Nepal also faces significant environmental challenges, including air pollution, deforestation, and water scarcity. These issues can affect people’s health and well-being and contribute to unhappiness.

Gender Inequality

Nepal has significantly reduced gender inequality in recent years but still lags behind many other countries in the region. Women in Nepal face discrimination and unequal access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities, which can harm their well-being and sense of happiness.

From the lens of gender, Nepal stands at 113th position in the global Gender Inequality Index. The Gender Inequality Index measures gender inequalities (the loss in human development due to inequality between female and male achievements) in three key dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market. As the inequality in a country increase, the loss in human development also increases.

The positive side of Nepal's ranking and its implications

Nepal’s ranking as the happiest country in South Asia is undoubtedly a significant achievement. The country has struggled with political instability, economic challenges, and natural disasters over the years, but the people’s resilience and positive outlook have helped them overcome these challenges. The country’s ranking can have a significant impact on its tourism industry, as it can attract more visitors to the country who are interested in exploring Nepal’s culture, natural beauty, and friendly people.

In conclusion, according to a recent UN survey, Nepal’s ranking as the happiest country in South Asia is an achievement the country should be proud of. The survey results can significantly affect Nepal’s tourism industry and reputation as a friendly and welcoming country.

However, the survey’s methodology and sample size have come under criticism, and it is essential to consider these concerns when interpreting the survey results. Nevertheless, the survey results provide insight into the state of happiness in the world and can help policymakers and researchers understand the factors contributing to people’s well-being.

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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