india Unhappy Days Are Here Again

May 4, 2012
By Robert J. Vasilak

More and more people in India now have money in their pockets, but it isn’t making them happy.

Despite a solid economy, a Gallup poll has determined that Indians have become “much more unhappy about their lives” over the past four years. As a result, they don’t smile and laugh as much as they used to. They feel less financially secure. They get more stressed-out. They’ve lost their optimism about the future. Nearly one-third of them -- 240 million people -- now consider themselves to be “suffering.”

This personal unhappiness has wider ramifications. “The sense that the 21st century belonged to India has begun to evaporate,” says a story in the Washington Post, “replaced by a deepening sense of malaise.”

Reading the Post’s story, I began to worry that a declining happiness quotient could put the squeeze on India’s prospects for golf development. In recent years people have been predicting that India, thanks to its ever more affluent middle class, would be the golf industry’s next big thing. But people who believe that they’ve reached a personal, social, or economic plateau don’t continue to aspire to the good life. They may no longer dream of joining a golf club or moving into a golf community. And when that happens, your golf development dreams disappear.

There are other possible ramifications, too, worse ones. The Post’s story raises the possibility that personal unhappiness might lead to social unrest -- “the sort of upheavals,” the newspaper writes, “that roiled Tunisia and Egypt last year.”

If you think such a suggestion is far-fetched, remember this: One-third of world’s poorest people live in India. Like you and me, they’ve seen pictures of rich Indian businessmen playing golf, eating in expensive restaurants, and driving Mercedes. Don’t you think it’s likely that, at one time or another, the idea of a revolution has crossed their minds?

Here’s a distilled version of the Post’s story:

Indians have become much more unhappy about their lives in the past four years, despite one of the world’s fastest rates of economic growth, a survey by the Gallup polling organization showed Monday.

The deterioration appears to have been driven partly by the expectation, created by politicians and the media, that India’s boom would dramatically improve its citizens’ standard of living. When many Indians realized that the boom was not significantly benefiting them, their sense of well-being and optimism about the future seemed to collapse.

“It is very dangerous to create expectations and not meet them,” said Rajesh Srinivasan, Gallup’s regional research director for Asia and the Middle East.

The number of Indians who rated their lives poorly enough to be considered “suffering” rose this year to 31 percent, equivalent to 240 million people, a dramatic rise from just 7 percent in 2008. . . .

Gallup classifies respondents as “thriving,” “struggling,” or “suffering,” according to how they rate their current and future lives. While 74 percent of Danes said they were “thriving,” the highest percentage anywhere in the world, just 13 percent of Indians said the same thing.

The global average is 24 percent.

India’s self-image has taken a battering in the past few years. Corruption scandals dominate the headlines on a daily basis, the government seems paralyzed and unable to take even simple steps to reform the economy, and growth has been slowing.

The sense that the 21st century belonged to India has begun to evaporate, replaced by a deepening sense of malaise. Business confidence and investment have also declined. 

Massive government welfare and rural employment programs have helped drive down poverty levels, the Gallup survey found. The share of people saying they did not have enough money for food dropped to 13 percent in 2012 from 35 percent in 2006.

But high levels of inflation have helped depress Indians’ sense of financial well-being. Stress levels have risen, and the number of people who can count on social support and help has fallen.

The percentage of those saying they had smiled or laughed the previous day fell to 52 percent in 2012 from 62 percent in 2006. . . .

The findings also raise the possibility of the sort of social unrest that struck Los Angeles 20 years ago, after police officers were filmed beating Rodney King, or the sort of upheavals that roiled Tunisia and Egypt last year, said Jim Clifton, Gallup’s chairman and chief executive.

“All you need is a matchstick event,” he said. . . .

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The stories on this page were written by Robert J. Vasilak and originally appeared at World Golf Report, a blog that also posts news about U.S. golf development and other fun stuff. Visit us at http://www.WorldGolfReport.blogspot.com