In Pursuit of Happiness

5 min readFeb 20


I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when Smita Saldanha* said: “Don’t laugh at me when I say that I have completed a dip stick survey of happiness level among long haul truck drivers!”

I puked almost at the dim-lit restaurant sipping my coriander lemon soup. The twenty-something was sitting in front of me on a two-seater corner in an upmarket restaurant in the National Capital Region of India. The soup was tasty and my all-time favorite. Many a night on tours, this is my must-go-to item besides a plain tandoori roti. Just that. I roll up the solid spherical warm stuff into the hotter liquid item. Bite by bite, I enjoy, while colleagues are busy with their starters. Before they could finish their starters, my dinner gets over.

I straightened up, re-rubbed my eyes, and asked: Smita, you mean happiness level study of truck drivers?

She nodded. Perhaps she sensed my sarcasm.

Smita conducted the conventional pen-and-paper survey in one of the southern states for a giant global corporation operating in India. Her sample universe: 100 truck drivers. Foreign educated with an engineering degree and runs her consultancy.

Consultancy at twenty-something? You ask. Dispel such thoughts. You wah wah start-ups by the young brigade but pooh-pooh my consultancy? Me too, young. This, too, is a start-up!” I roasted alive in our maiden meeting eight weeks ago somewhere in the south. Okay, meri dadi ma! I accept and respect your consultancy profile.

Kaam se matlaab hai! Age is no factor, and let me not be judgemental.

Leave aside those banters. The survey revealed that not everything is hunky-dory. Not an astonishing finding. Any other careerist would have said the same thing. Happiness is not quantifiable in the strictest sense of the term. It varies, like people’s moods.

Forget about India and its truck drivers’ happiness quotient. Drivers across the world are made of the same fabric. A similar survey in the United States said, on the whole, 800 odd truck drivers scored 2.7 out of 5 on the happiness hunting spree.

The survey’s key points explored included: salary, meaning, personality fit, work environment, and skill utilization.

Salary or earnings is the usual barometer for all happiness index compilers. Yes, the truck driver career is challenging. Physically tiresome. Risky too. At the same time, there are no entry barriers. Anyone can make it a career. Most Indian drivers are self-taught or groomed outside the non-existent driver training institutes (DTI). Most Driver’s license holders are not technically qualified or certified like their counterparts in the rest of the world. Keeping this reality in mind, whatever they are compensated for is adequate and nothing to crib about, despite the muted murmur. There are drivers who cannot read. Leave alone write. Then, how do they drive on new routes? Ask Google, and she “tells” or “guides” you in your mother tongue. At best, they ask others to reach their destination.

So, no amount of money satisfies anyone, so higher weightage should not be given to this factor. Nonetheless, it is one of the key elements.

By “Meaning,” we mean whether drivers find driving a “meaningful job?” A majority of them join the ranks because they opted for it. They could have gotten into a factory or workshop or set up a small roadside shop to vend items. Still, they chose to be a driver. No one forced them to be a driver. It was their choice. They ought to have found truck driving to be a better career option than what was there before them.

There is nothing to talk about personality fit. They come in all sizes. Once they get in, they rarely leave. Such is the charm of this career. Indirectly, this attitude or characteristic translates into their liking or fascination for this career. Yes, they are happy.

The work environment is a serious and ticklish issue. Truck driving is a challenging job, but we don’t mean physical challenge alone. The mental agony or challenge of facing the highway hooligans and highway vultures in the form of rent-seeking government and non-governmental characters is humungous.

In my 14-year exposure to the Indian trucking vertical, interacting with more than 100,000 long-haul truck drivers, I have never come across a driver abandoning his driving career due to the ill-treatment at the hands of corrupt elements on highways. There are innumerable incidents of drivers getting killed by hijackers or hooligans on highways and also by highway bureaucracy for non-payment of bribes! Despite such ugly incidents, there is no exodus from this profession. Yes, they have learned to live with such ground reality. Beyond voicing their concerns through social media directly or occasionally via their owners or trade bodies, they remained glued to their truck driving profession. Why? There is decent money, more than commensurate with their educational background.

Drivers without any vice are richer than their supervisors and the uniformed security guards at the factory gates who treat them shabbily.

Of course, happiness cannot be measured purely based on money. What hurts them most is their lack of recognition and respectability by the society they serve. Even that lacuna they have overcome. Simply put, they don’t care.

If so, why do they present a sad spectacle? asks my twenty-something dip stick surveyor as she scoops her pistachio-filled chocolate. Why only drivers? Try their owners. They will also crib. We, humans, never lose an opportunity of a volunteer shoulder to cry upon.

All of us embrace a career in pursuit of happiness. Driving is a job, and they, too, seek the unquantifiable or wrongly measured emotional item called happiness. There is nothing wrong with figuring out how happy one is at various times. In that respect, my twenty-something desire and design a happiness index for truck drivers is laudable. Beyond that, this statistical exercise serves very little. I am skeptical and curious at the same time to figure out what steps other stakeholders would launch to make drivers’ life happier. How about you?

*Name changed to protect the identity.




An avid watcher & practitioner in the world of communication