How happy are South Africans?
It has been 4 years since the publication of the first World Happiness Report (WHR) in 2012, with its central purpose to survey the scientific underpinnings of measuring and understanding subjective well-being. In 2015, the WHR continued attempts to explain the levels and changes in average national life evaluations among countries around the world. The 2016 WHR measures well-being, positive emotions, and details the global distribution of life evaluations.
With Denmark ranked as the happiest country in the world and South Africa at 116 out of the 150 countries surveyed, the question is “How happy are South Africans?”
Before we break down that question, however, I feel it is necessary to give you more insight into what factors into Denmark being ranked so favourably and so my research led me to find that:
- Denmark supports parents – Danish families receive 52 weeks of paid-for maternity leave. Not only can mommy and daddy spend valuable time bonding with a new arrival but Denmark goes so far as to provide free or low-cost childcare for working families.
- Healthcare is a civil right and a source of social support – Danes expect and receive free health care as a basic right.
- Gender equality is prioritized – This notion isn’t only reserved for parents who are expected to balance gender norms and Denmark regularly ranks among the Top 10 countries in a World Economic Forum’s annual report that measures gender equality.
- Cycling – Copenhagen, Denmark’s largest and most populated city accounts for 50% of the Danish population who cycle to work and school.
- Putting a positive spin on their harsh environment – During their colder winter months, Denmark prides itself in a culture called hygge, which can be defined as cultivated coziness.
- Danes feel a sense of responsibility toward one another – Social security is not a priority and there’s a sense of collective responsibility and belonging.
With that in mind and the recent spate of protest action that has not only gripped our country but is crippling the image that the international community may have of South Africa in general, Denmark seems like the perfect country. For one, their no tuition fee policy does sound attractive, however, the student living and accommodation costs are generally higher than most places, well above the European average. And yet, they’re happier than anyone else in the world. Why?
The age of criminal responsibility, rape, murder, violence, drugs and other criminal offences are present in all the countries surveyed in the WHR and therefore as a South African I feel accepting these as the reasons why South Africans may not be happier are unfounded because these factors have not influenced any of the Top 10 countries in this report.
So, why aren’t South Africans happier? If the six factors above are anything to go by then it’s plain to see what could be contributing to our unhappiness.
- In the average South African household – Both parents have to hold down a regular 9 to 5 in order to survive the grueling economy and the high living expenses. Pair that with the cost of childcare, school fees, and after-care and it’s not hard to see why we aren’t happier.
- Access to free quality health-care – Is non-existent in South Africa and private medical coverage costs an arm and a leg adding more financial pressure to families who want to provide the basics for their loved ones.
- Gender equality is a work in progress – 60 years after 20 000 women staged a march to the Union buildings in Pretoria, South Africa is still to meet some of the millennium development goals set by the United Nations, this is in part caused by gender-based violence, according to the Commission for Gender Equality.
- Public Transport – While there have been improvements to our public transport systems with the inclusion of the Gautrain and Rea Vaya, the question is how accessible are these options to the average South African? Cycle lanes in the city of Johannesburg have been halted but South Africans don’t really have a cycling culture and many commute using taxis or buses. Congestion and traffic still factor into the lives of every working citizen and spending hours stuck in transit is not uncommon.
- Environmental Awareness – It’s not a pleasant fact but South Africans could be doing more in terms of environmental preservation. We take a lot for granted, litter far too much and don’t think about the repercussions thereof.
- Too preoccupied with protecting ourselves – Social security is one of our highest priorities and we spend much of our time worried about the safety of our loved ones.
That said, how can we change our mind-set and aim to be happier? How do you define happiness?
I recently watched a documentary by Michael Moore – “Where to invade next” and it was eye-opening to see exactly how other countries operate. France, for example, has an incredible school lunch program (if I could call it that), where chefs prepare children in public school gourmet lunches that could be found at 4-star restaurants. It’s a school cafeteria system like no other, the children are all sat at a table, with cutlery before them and are served their meals which include a cheese platter, fruit, and NO soft-drinks. The healthy meals are planned and passed by nutritionists who develop a meal plan for the children every week. Mind-blowing?
Well, consider this. Italians get up to 8 weeks of paid leave,15 days off work when they get married to go on honeymoon, and their lunch breaks are 2 hours long. Many Italians go home for lunch, cook a fresh pot of pasta and home-made sauce, sit down as a family and have lunch together. Sounds too good to be true right? Watch the documentary and you will get a better understanding as to why these countries do this.
To sum it up, they believe in protecting the well-being of their employees, children who are in school and promoting a healthy family unit, where the mom & dad receive all the support and structure necessary in raising a happy family. Stress-free living as the Italians call it, no wonder Italians always look as if they’ve just had sex…they’re HAPPY.
We on the other hand with so many daily challenges and such pressure to succeed in every area have changed happiness into one more thing we’ve just got to have. We’re so self-conscious about our right to it, that it makes us miserable, so we chase it and equate it to wealth and success without realizing that the people who have it may not necessarily be happy.
When was the last time you sat down to a home-cooked meal with your family? Your last vacation? The last date night with your partner? Would we be happier if we spent more time with our families and fewer hours at the office?