In 2016, emulating our deeply devout Buddhist neighbour Bhutan, the Madhya Pradesh government established ‘Anand Mantralaya’ or the Ministry of Happiness.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan proudly announced, “We are collaborating with IIT- Kharagpur for developing State Happiness Index. In the recent past, countries like Bhutan and Great Britain have worked in this area on the life satisfaction scale devised by Dr Ed Denier. The ancient Indian wisdom that suggests ways of fulfilling and joyous life has never lost its relevance. That old sagacity has to be brought back in a manner that contemporary society understands and appreciates.”
Jolly good, I thought! Happiness of our countrymen should be our prime concern, so I tried to track the activities of our nascent ‘Anand Mantralaya’. My enthusiasm received a very unkind jolt, when in December 2017 I found that our only Happiness Minister, Shri Lal Singh Arya was wanted for murder! He was ‘the target of a massive hunt launched in Madhya Pradesh. Lal Singh Arya disappeared two days ago after a court ordered his arrest in a murder case’, reported The Hindu.
Mr Arya had allegedly murdered a Congress leader in 2009. If this cloud hung over his ministerial head, how come he was chosen to head the Happiness Ministry? Our above mentioned ‘sagacity’! Were it not for its tragic connotations, the disappearance of the Happiness Minister involving a murder would have been a fit plot for a comical Paresh Rawal movie!
Going by international ratings, we Indians do not seem to be a very happy lot! We scored a poor 122nd spot in the World Happiness Report for 2017, conducted by the United Nations. In fact, we tumbled down by five points as compared to 2016.
The state-managed pursuit of happiness seems to be on shaky grounds. So let us now try come to grips with an even sadder subject – ‘Loneliness’.
I have dealt with the subject of ‘Loneliness’, in my Merinews article, ‘Loneliness and Solitude’. But that was in a different context. We see, that now the governments have also started dabbling with the subject of ‘Loneliness’.
Ministry of Loneliness:
For my generation, Elvis Presley’s soulful ‘Are you lonesome, tonight’ was a haunting ditty. But it was bearable, for it spoke of only temporary separation of love-birds. Otherwise, ‘loneliness’ is a human condition which can drive people to despair, derangement or even suicide.
The world stood up and took notice when the British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’. A inter-disciplinary group within the government would study social and health issues caused by social isolation. Any nation or society pays a huge social and financial costs occasioned by the lonely.
The UK Prime Minister said, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”
Specifically, a study involving 200,000 elderly people in England showed that they had not had a conversation with a friend or a relative, in over a month. When I read this report, I felt that internet and the mobile are to a great extent responsible for aggravating this already grave situation. Children and relatives often feel that they had done their duty by WhatsApping the oldies. But the warmth of human proximity and touch, the crucial healing factor is missing!
My entire career of over four decades has been spent at one of the largest engineering and communication companies in the world. As the age of internet and automation was dawning in the early 90s, in seminar after seminar we were cautioned:
Low Tech = Hi Human Touch
Hi Tech = Low Human Touch
“Loneliness can kill. It’s proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. But it can be overcome and needn’t be a factor in older people’s lives,” says specialist Mark Robinson.
The UK government is tackling loneliness by building neighbourhood ‘pocket parks’ to encourage personal engagement, and using volunteers to connect lonely people with the community.
India is sitting on a loneliness epidemic, according to a report in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry by SC Tiwari, of the King George’s Medical University, Lucknow.
The population of the elderly is ballooning, both relative to the total population as well as absolute numbers. Moreover, changing living situations (living alone or living with relations and non-relations) are the main demographic ‘breeders of loneliness.’ Further, environmental factors like type of family, social network, transportation issues and place of residence, population migrations, etc. are also some other significant correlates of loneliness. Women are reportedly at greater risk for loneliness and isolation than men, says Dr Tiwari.
Recourse to religion and pets:
Studies conducted by Dr Epley and team have shown, that those who take recourse to religion and tending pets are more successfully able to ward off their loneliness.
As also those, who ‘believe in ghosts, angels, the devil, miracles, curses, and God, and the supernatural agents’. Never having encountered ghosts or angels, I am not able to comment on this part!
The least we can do as individuals is to spare our time and reach out to the lonely or the elderly.
“The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness” – Norman Cousins