Friday, March 16, 2018

World Happiness Report - a media perspective

Annually, UN backed World Happiness Report is published with a list of countries in the decreased order of happiness. Specifically, the World Happiness Report is prepared by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities. However, the report is assisted by Gallup organization with data and financially by other western academic institutions and funding agencies.  In this report Indian position is 128, Pakistan is 75, United States is 107, Finland is 1st, Syria is 150, Burundi is the last one (156th).  The report is generated by assessing countries on six indicators income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The assessment is based on a survey conducted by Gallup company, which is a US based performance management consulting company.  The Gallop World Poll (GWP) questions are used to extract opinions from people of each countries and the assessment of happiness is carried based on their responses.  A sample size of 2,000 to 3,000 is taken for the assessment. Gallop company claims that the conclusions are in 95% confidence intervals.  The responses are collected with binary responses (yes or no) and common questions are used across the countries.  For example, to determine the 'social support', the GWP question used is "If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?”.  Similarly, the freedom to make life choices is determined by GWP by using the question "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”.  Further, the Generosity of people is determined by the question “Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?”.   To assess on the corruption, the GWP uses the questions “Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not?” and “Is corruption widespread within businesses or not?” are used.

The World Happiness Report is given wide coverage by the western media and world organizations. Influenced by Western media, Indian media too provide visibility to this report.  The unconvincingness of Pakistan and USA being above India in Happiness index remains with the public. However, the UN stamp on the report, backed up by media reports silences the reader. 

The Gallop company is known for conducting engagement surveys in companies to assess the extent of engagement of employees in the companies.  It is the experience of vast majority of employees that the engagement results are meaningful. Further, although surveying agencies and the companies promise confidentiality of participation and responses of individual employees, employees deeply suspect the credibility of this promise.  In general, the questions used in the engagement surveys are also binary.  Many experts have severely criticized the methodology of engagement surveys. In the surveys conducted by the Gallop, it is observed that ambiguous measures are passed off as conclusions.  From a professional researcher's point of view, agree/disagree questions are the weakest type. It should also be observed that large claims are made based on such yes/no type of responses.  The questions that are used in the surveys are disconnected, many times interpreted differently by different individuals and the frame work is just not understandable.

Every year, UN backed, Gallop supported World Happiness Report is being published and Indian media highlights the contents of the report.  Indian public are misled about the concept of happiness without knowing the methodology adopted to generate the report.  Indians think that they are less happy compared to most of other countries of the world and distance themselves from the true happiness concept they naturally inherit.