We are not a very happy lot…
SA at 101 on list of lands where people are cheerful
THE sun shines most of the year, we have an awesome cricket team, and our girls are hot, but still South Africans are just not happy.
We are not as happy as those Northern Europeans with their endless iron grey skies and temperatures that dip well below freezing.
Even the Libyans find more joy in their uncertain post-Muammar Gaddafi world.
Earlier this week, the World Happiness Report 2017 was released and out of 155 countries South Africa came 101st.
Pretty good going, considering we moved up 15 places from last year. At number one is Norway, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.
They, according to the report, ranked highly on those factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
And it is not just this report that has pegged South Africans as a bunch of sad sacks. The Bloomberg economy misery index had South Africa at number three in 2015. Last year the Cato Institute in the US ranked South Africa at five on their Misery Index.
South Africa’s misery woes are blamed on high unemployment and a faltering economy.
The World Happiness Report relied on roughly 3000 respondents from each of the 155 countries. They were asked questions that evaluate their lives, related to six factors: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, corruption, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity.
The problem, believes Steuart Pennington who runs the sagoodnews website, is South Africans are unlikely to give a true reflection of themselves in a survey. “We think that things that happen here don’t happen elsewhere. But I don’t think we’re an unhappy lot.”
In Africa, Libya and Algeria beat South Africa in the happiness stakes.
But what Professor Darma Mahadea, at the school of accounting, economics and finance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, finds surprising is that South Africa has improved its ranking in the report over the last year.
“There is also a deficit on level of trust with policy-makers and the government on service delivery and corruption, high levels of crime, all of which detract from happiness,” Mahadea says.
“If the happiness level ranking is improving, then the level of misery and discontent may be lower. Possible welfare effects of state grants?”
Measuring the state of happiness is becoming the next frontier of study among economists who are finding that crunching numbers from GDPs and plotting the rise and fall of currency values aren’t enough to provide a full picture of a country’s economic well-being.
“Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy,” the report states.
“As demonstrated by many countries, this report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls,” says co-author Jeffrey Sachs.
Mahadea says happiness and economic growth are strongly linked. “As a country gets richer with progress of economic growth, its citizens are happier, more so if they have warm family, social and community relationships.”
The problem, he believes, is that South Africa has an economic growth rate that is less than 0.5%, lower than the population growth rate, and where a quarter of the labour force is unemployed.
Pennington, however, points out that often it is the questions asked in these surveys that lead to pessimistic answers.
“They will ask questions like are you more optimistic of the future than you were five years ago. In reality, we are a warm people across the board.”
But it’s not only income that buys joy. “Material things and sensual, hedonistic pleasures cannot give permanent happiness,” says Mahadea.
“Lasting happiness comes with the mode of goodness – good actions, caring and altruistic concerns with religiosity and faith in divinity… The search for happiness goes on.”