I would like to enroll myself for the 8th standard high school education in one of the Delhi government schools just because I am too fascinated by the Happiness Curriculum, Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister and education minister has launched a week ago. The programme included in the regular curriculum is aimed at helping students to thrive on exploring their inner core values as well as achieving success through lessons based on positive psychology. The activity based programme is said to have a number of features such as meditation, moral values and mental exercises and is expected to mould better citizens who would happily serve the society.

The Unhappy Notes

The plan is particularly appreciable at a time reports of juvenile crime and student suicide repeatedly surge in media. We feel a lump in our throat as we read cold blooded murders in school campuses in the past few months. Within 6 months after a student of 11th class killed a class 2 child in Gurgaon in September 2017, we read the report of a class 10 student murdering his junior in a Vadodara school. In a chilling incident reported in January this year a seven year old pupil was stabbed by a 12 year old schoolgirl  at a Lucknow school. The apparent motive in each of these murders was to disturb the school for their convenience. There have been other instances of peer bullying in schools, most of which are either negotiated or solved through counseling, but not reported by the media.

The most happy people in India may be the rural folk even though they fight all odds. This is particularly because of the social connectedness and interdependency customary to the rural/tribal living. The countries ranking high on happiness index are found trying well-being boosters such as building and maintaining strong community networks, and providing with freedom and resources.

Another worrying trend is the increasing rate of suicides among students. Reports read that in every hour one student commits suicide in our country. Some important reasons psychologists point out include fear of failure or poor performance in exams, and anxiety about future and career. Apathy of families and social institutions towards children make them more stressed. The situation is exacerbated by government’s negligence to allocate adequate funds on mental health (India spends less than Bangladesh on mental-health services).

Lure of Happiness

Happiness has attracted various policy makers in their pursuit for prosperity. (Prosperity for whom? remains to be a puzzling question though). In 2016 Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the CM of Madhya Pradesh created the Ministry of Happiness on the lines of Bhutan which measures prosperity of people by Gross National Happiness (GNH). Following Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra also have considered happiness departments. However, the daily reports show that nothing much has changed in people’s life in our country where misery is manufactured for people on a daily basis. India’s fall from the global happiness rank of 118/155 countries in 2016 to 122 in 2017 proves that our happiness is only a pretence of our politicians.

On the other hand the people are destined to go to any extent to gain happiness. They become impatient on roads and queues just to get their desired goal. They thrash others to get to the first place. They become jealous of other’s achievements as well as the provisions people get because they belong to weaker sections. They bribe anyone to get their matters done. They want to lynch people just to make themselves convinced that they are the owners of this land. The other is considered as an obstacle on their way to achieve success.

As we increasingly become aware that our policy makers are less concerned about the real happiness of people, and the parents want to achieve success at any cost, teaching our children to be happy in even the worst situation is not a worthless attempt. But, can a curriculum bring smiles on Indian students’ faces? Asking this fundamental question is not being cynical.

Roots of Unhappiness

Bhutan may be the inspiration for many who aspire for happiness. The country credits its cultural richness to Buddhist philosophy whose greatest tenet is to root out desire which is the cause of all problems. On the contrary India’s fast developing economy and development thrive on desires; desires from building skyscrapers to bullet trains, from getting secure jobs to appearing on silver screen, from owning successful business to settling in an urban area. Surprisingly, a large number of people escape to other countries because they think their desires can easily be fulfilled there. India having the largest diaspora among all nations is a true indicator of how much happiness can be achieved here!

Education being the key to open the magical desire box, parents not only invest money on their children but also instil unhealthy spirit of competition in them. Moreover, the media messages and social interactions continuously suggest them that the life is a tight rope competition. Could anyone be happy in such a competitive environment?

19 Picture 1. Japan fans cleaning stadium

Even after the devastating defeat of the Japanese against Belgium in the Football World Cup the fans took it a point to clean the stadium after the match. This remarkable gesture even at a most disappointed time of loss shows their commitment to civic life and is at the root of their happiness.

Secondly, happiness does not come through books but by living a socially responsible and ethical life. Civic sense and respect for the other is the basis of happiness. Imagine a scenario. In schools we teach our children very effectively to obey traffic rules or manage waste to conserve nature. But what civic lesson would a father who picks the child from school give if he drives without respecting the traffic rules on road. Similarly if the mother is a litter-monster and a disaster in managing garbage the child apparently would be confused with conflicting ideas. Then children normally conclude that what they learn in schools is for academic success and what their parents do is the most practical way to success. Wouldn’t this dichotomy lead them to unhappiness?

Thirdly, the countries ranking highest in happiness index are found to have strong sense of community. Not only that there is less conflicts and violence but the level of mutual trust is very high. They trust their government because it is more accountable and less corrupt, and provide easy access to strong social programmes. Similarly people trust each other as there is less number of social conflicts including vandalism, assault, and robbery. Whereas, we live in a social environment which is dangerously catastrophic. People, especially the vulnerable sections and minorities, are not safe on streets not even at their own homes. At any time moral police can emerge and lynch them to death. How could our tender children find happiness in such a terrible social context?

Working for a Dystopia

Education plays an important role in creating strong social and ethical foundations for the future generations. Happiness, just like any other value, can be imparted to our students through proper training and monitoring. Reducing their stress level is a very important aspect for forming a sane generation that will serve communities to achieve greater happiness. Happiness can become a catalyst for building social trust and healthy living not only in the educational campus but also in the neighbourhoods they live. Thus happiness can spread fragrance of goodwill, harmony and solidarity in the vicinities they live.

Nonetheless, happiness would remain an oasis for our young people and children so far as the parents and policy makers are not able to make a peaceful atmosphere for them at home and in public. When children are left to compete with contradicting values constantly in a cataclysmic environment no curriculum can help them with happiness. Unless parents and policy makers are not willing to sit in happiness classes we would be lavishing our children on a dystopia.

(Published in Indian Currents on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)