Why are the people in Bangladesh growing unhappy?

People wait in long queues to purchase necessary commodities from TCB at fair prices. The picture was taken from Mohammadpur bus station on 3 November.Sabina Yesmin

How satisfied or happy are you with the present state of life? Shafiq Ahmed, a 37-year-old who works in a private firm, came to a kitchen market in Mirpur Friday morning and found it hard to put his feelings into words.   

He only said his six-member family might have to starve sometime in the future if the current trend of the commodity price hike continues. The conversation ended awkwardly as he become too overwhelmed with dismay.

Asked the same question, around a dozen people of different professions came up with similar remarks and expressed grave  frustration with their current state of life. Most of them said they are struggling to deal with the high commodity prices and escalating cost of living, in addition to other longstanding adversities.  

It is obvious that there are millions more, especially in the low and middle income groups, who have similar stories to tell.  

The growing public dissatisfaction is reflected in the latest World Happiness Report of the United Nations’ sustainable development solutions network (SDSN). Bangladesh turned out to be the 118th happiest nation among 137 countries surveyed, down by 24 notches from the previous year’s position. The latest report was published on 20 March.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is ahead of only India and Afghanistan that secured the 126th and 137th spots respectively on the happiness index. Even bankrupt Sri Lanka stands at 112 while Pakistan at 106, Myanmar at 117, and Nepal at 78. 

With Finland leading, Denmark, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand make up the top ten happiest countries.

The five countries with the least happy populations are, in reverse order, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There prevails an acute happiness gap between top and bottom halves of the population
Kamrul Hasan Mamun, Dhaka University professor, researcher and columnist

The UN organisation prepared the report on the basis of average life evaluations in terms of six key variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and absence of corruption. Here, the previous three years -- 2020 to 2022 -- are taken into account.  

The report showed that people in countries with effective democratic institutions and good governance are much happier than those having deficiency.

The SDSN looked into the trends of how happiness is distributed among people, including the happiness gap between the top and the bottom halves of the population. It found that people are happier in countries where the happiness gap is smaller.

Asked about the issue, Kamrul Hasan Mamun, a Dhaka University professor, researcher and columnist, said none but those who are involved with the government or have additional sources of income, be it legal or illegal, are leading a happy life now. There prevails an acute happiness gap between top and bottom halves of the population. 

Most of the jobholders now earn as per pay scales introduced at least five years ago. But the commodity prices as well as living costs have gone up manifold in the meantime, leaving no scope for the limited income people to lead a happy life, he added. 

He also noted that the gap between rich and poor widened to an alarming extent. The authorities now and then claim the people are leading a happy life here. But they actually have no idea about the dire living conditions of the limited income people.

The SDSN report noted that happiness can be promoted through public policies and the actions of business and civil society. 

Referring to wayouts, Jeffrey D Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and one of the authors of the happiness report, said the ultimate goal of politics and ethics should be human well-being. It is evident that well-being is not a soft and vague idea, it rather focuses on areas of life of critical importance, including material conditions, mental and physical wealth, personal virtues, and good citizenship. 

“We need to turn this wisdom into practical results to achieve more peace, prosperity, trust, civility – and yes, happiness – in our societies,” he added.