We are not a very happy lot…

SA at 101 on list of lands where people are cheer­ful

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHAUN SMIL­LIE

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.”

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