Cheers, we’re the most generous in Africa and happiest lot in region

Despite the erupting cases of corruption, news of murders and updates of hopelessness that litter social media pages, Kenyans remain the happiest people in East Africa.

According to the 2019 survey released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Wednesday, Kenya outperformed East African nations when parameters of happiness were measured using global standards.

The report that was released to mark the World Happiness Day bases its ranking on six key variables: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption.

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This year’s focus was on how community affects happiness, how it has been changing over the years, and how information technology, governance and social norms influence communities.

Social systems

The chief researcher John Helliwell had an explanation for what makes countries like Kenya happy despite the many sad events that dominate their news.  

“What stands out about the happiest and most well connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said Helliwell.

Interesting to note from the survey is that social systems in Kenya seem to be crumbling. Compared to the 2018 report, more Kenyans responded in negative when asked: “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?”

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There was also a decline in the number of people who feel they are free to make their own decisions without external influence.

On a positive note, Kenyans have been more generous when it comes to donating to charity. An analysis from the survey shows a sharp spike in the number of people who have gone out of their way to give to a needy cause, despite their economic standing. It was sixth globally when it comes to generosity, topping even the countries that were rated happiest, such as Finland and United Kingdom.

Kenya is also the place to be if you want to live longer in East Africa, as data shows it ranks higher compared to Tanzania and Uganda, ranking at number 111 out of the 156 countries that were surveyed. Uganda is at number 133 and Tanzania at 123.

There is however a worrying trend where even though aggregately, Kenya seems to be a better place to be, there is a drop, although by a small margin, on the number of people who report to have had a hearty laugh daily in the duration the survey was done (2018).

Between 2016 and 2018, more Kenyans have recorded feelings of worry, sadness, and anger.

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According to psychologists, the existence of positive emotions matters much more than the absence of negative ones.

The biggest increases in the frequency of negative emotions were recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the 2018 frequency greater by half than in 2010. 

Interestingly, Somalia which has been reported for years as war-wrecked tops all African countries when it comes to freedom to make life choices. When asked: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” most of them responded by saying they were satisfied. They are number 14 globally in freedom of choice.

Globally, smart phones were blamed on the decreasing happiness levels among individuals.

The report said the increasing hours that people, especially teenagers, spend absorbed on electronic devices lowers their happiness level.

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Freedom to choose

Studies sited by American psychologist Jean Twenge said by by 2017, the average 17 or 18-year-old spent more than six hours a day of leisure time on the Internet, social media and texting. She linked the activities to an increase in depression.

“As screen time increased, people became less inclined to engage in face-to-face interactions such as getting together with their friends or going to parties. There was also a decline in other non-screen-related activities, such as reading and sleeping,” she said.

Jeffery Sachs, one of the authors of the report said the findings provide governments and their citizens with an opportunity to rethink public policies as well as individual life choices, to raise happiness and well-being.

“We keep chasing economic growth as the holy grail, but it is not bringing well-being for our country. We should stop our addiction to GDP growth as our sole or primary indicator of how we are doing,” he told media during the release of the report.

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