Maddie Crowell in Lapham’s Quarterly:
The new initiative was first announced by India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a state executive meeting in its Bhopal headquarters in April 2016. “The state will be made responsible for the happiness and tolerance of its citizens,” declared Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and a BJP-celebrated yoga enthusiast. “We will rope in psychologists to counsel people on how to always be happy.” They decided on a budget of $567,000 and a purpose. “Happiness will not come into the lives of people merely with materialistic possessions or development,” Chouhan explained, “but by infusing positivity in their lives so that they don’t take extreme steps like suicide in distress.”
The following January, India’s first-ever “happiness minister” was appointed: the fifty-two-year-old Lal Singh Arya, a heavyset man who keeps a walrus mustache curled over his top lip and is often photographed in a simple tan sleeveless kurta over a white blouse. Combining more than seventy social programs across the state—from yoga practices to meditation to festivals—the Happiness Ministry would focus on “improving” the “four pillars” of society: good governance, sustainable socioeconomic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. That is, happiness was to be delivered by adding further bureaucracy to a country consistently rated as having one of the most bloated and corrupt bureaucratic systems in Asia.
…Was the ministry a sincere effort? Or was it merely a marketing campaign, an attempt to project the image of a happy country without actually addressing the concrete problems—food insecurity, homelessness, joblessness, violence, and uncompromising gender roles—that tend to hold most Indians back from pursuing happiness in their own way? The answer may lie in a truth unmentioned in any of the materials, which would seem to reveal goals far less than Ayurvedic: not long before the ministry’s announcement, the nation had dropped several rankings in the annual UN-produced World Happiness Index. India—home of contemplation, birthplace of yoga—had been rated one of the least happy countries in the world.