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     Volume 4 Issue 67 | October 14, 2005 |

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In Search of Happiness

Kavita Charanji

Yes it is official. Bangladesh has slipped behind in rankings on happiness. Around six years ago a study by the London School of Economics (LSE) made ripples when it stated that the citizens of the country were the happiest people in the world. However, according to a new study by the market research company GfK NOP that distinction now goes to Australia.

Interviewers got feedback from 30, 000 people in 30 different countries about their levels of happiness. Top of the list was Australia with 46 percent Australians saying that they were "very happy." Next down the line was the US (40 percent), Egypt (36 per cent), India (34 percent) and UK and Canada (32 percent). Heading the "miserable" list was Hungary (35 percent said they were very unhappy). The second most miserable people were the Russians at 30 percent. The research revealed that money and age affected happiness. The study did not show that money can buy happiness but it revealed a connection between a lack of money and unhappiness.

So what is the explanation for Bangladesh falling behind? According to Ishrat Shamim, professor of sociology at the Dhaka University and president of the Centre for Women and Children's Studies, there have been many changes in the socio-economic scenario which could explain why the country has slipped behind in the happiness quotient. In her words," Family ties are breaking up, while there is an increase in divorces and abandonment of women. Then there are other factors such as multiple marriages, inflation, migration, domestic violence and prostitution. Another phenomenon that could contribute to increased unhappiness is the treatment of women as commodities."

Still there are many who would call the Bangladeshis as a basically happy people, In the view of Shamim F Karim, professor of the Department of Psychology, Dhaka University and counselor, one reason for contentment is a "faith in Allah." Although many lead lives of impoverishment and want, she points out their satisfaction is apparent in their beaming smiles.

There is some basis to the popular perception of Bangladesh as a country of natural calamities--cyclones, tidal waves, floods and river erosion. However, as Shamim says, "People in Bangladesh are very resilient. We have our share of problems but we manage to live with dignity."

One person who does not buy the theory of happy Bangladeshis is Najma Ara Nazneen, who runs a travel agency in Dhaka. "Yes money can buy comforts such as a big house, but not happiness. Look at the soaring prices of essentials or the widespread corruption," maintains Nazneen.

Of course there are diverse definitions of happiness. According to Shamim, this enviable state can be achieved when "An individual is content with what he or she has, be social and able to laugh." To others happiness is the well being of one's family, friends and neighbours.

Psychologists have different answers on the criteria for happiness. According to one study, happy people share several characteristics (Myers & Diener, 1996; Myers 2000; Diener & Seligman, 2002):
*Happy people have high self-esteem. A positive view of oneself makes all the difference.
* Happy people have a firm sense of control. They are masters of their destiny rather than helpless pawns in the game of life.
* Happy individuals are optimistic. This quality enables them to persevere at tasks and achieve better results. In addition they enjoy better health (Peterson, 2000).
* Happy people enjoy company. They are usually extroverted and have close relationships.

The bottom line is that people need to foster positive emotions. An emphasis on the positive element is, in all likelihood, an indicator of a life long habit of responding positively to life elements, a habit that has a positive effect on people's health and thereby extends their lives (Danner, Snowdon & Friesen, 2001). Meanwhile, though Bangladesh has slipped in rankings on happiness, there is still cause to cheer. As several people testify, there is a high level of satisfaction even among slum dwellers and there is the occasional humble rickshaw wallah who may occasionally break into a song. It is these players who contribute to the overall well being of the nation.

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