Like the whole world, the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged lives and economies in Bangladesh and India last year, but the former managed to outdo the latter in happiness measurement.
In the 2021 World Happiness Report, Bangladesh ranked 68th, 24 steps ahead of its neighbour.
Nehal Karim, a sociology professor at the University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard it is very difficult to specifically conclude why Bangladeshis were found to be happier than Indians during the pandemic year.
"One thing I can say is that due to its huge population, India still has a lot to do as part of its pandemic management."
He said the virus had affected people differently across the globe, and there had not yet been any definite answer to why infection patterns had varied among different populations.
Published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Friday, the ninth edition of the happiness report revealed the happiness rankings of 95 countries based on the 2020 survey on how countries had dealt with the pandemic.
Except for Bangladesh and India, no other South Asian countries were included in the rankings.
Finland took the top position as the happiest country in the world, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
'You cannot purchase happiness'
Professor Nehal told The Business Standard he was not very convinced of the happiness rankings.
"Our purchasing power has increased but that does not mean the whole nation or the marginal group is also happy and is able to fulfil their basic needs. A specific group comprising a handful of people close to the government are enjoying all the facilities. You can say they are happy," he explained.
Expressing doubt about the happiness survey, he said he does not know how the survey was carried out, what the sample size was, and who participated in it.
"They did not come to me or those I know for the survey. I do not think this ranking has national implications for Bangladesh."
The professor reiterated that happiness is relative, and it varies among countries and societies and does not follow a hard-and-fast rule.
"For instance, if an accident happens in your family on Eid day, your Eid celebration will be ruined. On the other hand, if something good happens to you on an ordinary day, you will feel like that is your Eid."
He said people would be happy when they would be able to meet their basic needs, and their children would get good schooling and a good environment.
"We do not have those facilities here. Why do Bangladeshis move abroad? They mostly do odd jobs there and I would have done the same. But still our people go because those countries have social security."
Social security, indeed, has far-reaching effects on happiness. A strong social safety net has frequently been described as a key element of happiness in the Nordic nations that consistently dominate the happiness rankings.
The previous happiness report said well-functioning democracy, low crime and corruption, high trust between citizens and government, and generous social welfare benefits are among the key reasons for the Nordic exceptionalism.
Nehal further said people are happy when their situation and surroundings match their expectations, adding that not everyone can be happy at the same level.
"You cannot purchase happiness. You need to achieve it."
Two different rankings due to Covid-19
The happiness report is usually based on the average of survey results from the three previous years. For example, the 2020 report was based on data from 2017 to 2019.
But the 2021 World Happiness Report looked at the relationship between people's well-being and Covid-19. It includes two different rankings – one is based only on the 2020 survey and the other on surveys between 2018 and 2020.
In the second ranking, Bangladesh was ranked the 101st happiest country among 149, moving up six notches from the previous year's ranking. Except for Bhutan, it also included other South Asian countries, with Nepal ranking 87th, the Maldives 89th, Pakistan 105th, Sri Lanka 129th, India 139th, and Afghanistan 149th.
The happiness report has primarily been based on GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and the perception of corruption since it was launched in 2012.