THE Fifth World Happiness report 2017 was released on March 20 by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
Malaysia ranked 42nd in the World Happiness Index out of 155 countries. We could have fared better with some adjustments to our policies.
SDSN director Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who is also the head of Jeffrey Sachs Centre on Sustainable Development that is financed by a US$10-million (RM44 million) grant from the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and housed at Sunway University in Malaysia, recommended that nations emulate the United Arab Emirates in appointing a minister of happiness.
Do we need a minister of happiness?
Since happiness is what we all seek in life, why not give it priority by formulating policies and practices to improve wellbeing and quality of life?
What is the point of pursuing economic growth per se if the majority of people are not happy? Of course, we can appoint the prime minister as our minister of happiness as well. But we need more comprehensive policies that are implemented well to ensure that the low-income group is happy.
Hence, I think Malaysia should appoint a minister of happiness.
To start with, we can appoint a minister of national unity and happiness. The Finance Ministry, Department of National Unity or the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) could establish a happiness monitoring centre to oversee the implementation of pro-happiness policies and measures.
Ministries that promote measures which cause public unhappiness could be penalised by having their budget allocations cut.
After all, why do we want to use taxpayers’ money to perpetuate unhappiness?
Happiness is attributed to several factors, according to Professor Sachs: income per capita, health, life expectancy, freedoms, generosity, social support and absence of corruption.
From the above, we can understand why we scored poorly in the Happiness Index.
For instance, our incomes are low and with inflation rising and wages being slow to rise, happiness has declined.
The education system must be revamped to churn out highly skilled graduates so that we can have excellent scores in education quality indices like Programme for International Student Assessment and QS rankings.
Our life expectancy has improved considerably but our fundamental freedoms need to be studied by the government and its agencies.
Generosity would have been reasonably high with protective policies, 1Malaysia People’s Aid and rising safety nets.
Corruption, however, could have pulled down our score on the Happiness Index. Unless we take drastic action to address corruption, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, we will become more unhappy as a nation and people.
We need to take the UN-sponsored Happiness Index seriously.
We could compare and relate our Malaysian WellBeing Index to the UN Happiness Index.
The Jeffrey Sachs Centre could work closely with the EPU and government agencies to improve the happiness ranking. There should be more discussions among government officials, non-governmental organisations and the centre towards this aim.
Finally, the emphasis on economic growth should be shifted to making Malaysians happier, as higher incomes alone will not bring happiness. Happiness is all encompassing, as man shall not live by bread alone.
So, let’s pursue more happiness for our people.
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
Chairman, Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies