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Signs of happiness

Happiness means different things to men, women, boys and girls. But is there one thing that all groups of people like irrespective of age, sex and social status? NJOKI CHEGE sort to find out after Coca Cola released a study on the indicators of happiness

If you were asked today, "what makes you happy in life?" What would your answer be? If you are a woman, chances are your answer would lurk somewhere between self-esteem, your looks, a happy marriage or the success of a part-time community project you are involved in.

If you are a man, chances are your answer will range between that lustrous Mercedes you just bought, the respect and admiration you’ve earned from your peers, or the building you are just about to complete.

Psychologist Dr Chris Hart with Coca-Cola Marketing Brand Manager Catherine Mudachi during the launch of the Coca-Cola Happiness Barometer in Nairobi, recently.[PHOTO:COURTESY]

True? Let’s find out.

Scientists, psychologists, sociologists and researchers agree on one thing as far as happiness is concerned. While men derive happiness mainly from extrinsic satisfaction such as material things and outward signs of gain such as wealth, women find happiness in intrinsic satisfaction, intangible and non-material things such as love, acceptance, self-esteem and healthy relationships.

Dr Agnes Zani, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi, says the socialisation process and gender differences between men and women is responsible for the stark differences when it comes to the source of happiness for the two sexes.

"Due to our socialisation processes, men tend to seek outward signs of gains such as prosperity, money and success in material things such as cars and large houses. These send out the message that the man has achieved what society terms as success. For men, these perceptions to a large extent will determine their view of what makes them happy. So what tends to make men happy is mainly extrinsic, outer success, coupled with the recognition that comes with it."

Socialisation process

Zani continues to explain that women on the other hand tend to want acceptance. Again, this is determined to a large extent by the socialisation processes. Thus, self-esteem, love, acceptance, friendship and emotional ties are important to women. They seek partnerships with boyfriends and husbands to attain this and also close emotional ties with other females (sisters, friends and cousins among others). That is why you find many women desire to be in chamas (social and/or economic groupings that meet frequently).

For women, the source of happiness comes from emotional bonds, which in turn give them a sense of security. Such security can also be felt in the form of property, a fashionable wardrobe and regular entertainment, but these are secondary and tend to be part of fulfilling emotional ties.

Good health and a strong spiritual connection are also very important to women, which is why women make up the larger percentage of the congregation in churches and prayer groups.

Before we dismiss men as materialistic and money oriented, it is important to note that they, too, seek intrinsic satisfiers to some extent. Dr Zani notes; "Deep in men is a desire for intrinsic satisfiers such as trust and recognition from partners and children. Most important is respect. They are happy when they feel respected, by their families first, and then by the society at large."

Stand out

Men also value authority in their friendships and try as much as possible to stand out and shine. They believe they are accepted and respected when they command much authority, which can better be manifested when they are in leadership positions.

Thus, if men and women find happiness from such different sources, is it possible for men and women to be happy together without stepping on each other’s toes?

The answer is: Yes, it is possible. According to a recent survey conducted by Coca-Cola dubbed the Coca-Cola Happiness Barometer’ most people interviewed said their greatest source of happiness was — get this — marriage.

Even with the negative energy surrounding marriage and relationships in Kenya, most of the people interviewed overwhelmingly (95 per cent) voted their partners as the biggest source of happiness. Surprised?

Overall, in all the countries where the survey was carried out, 77 per cent of the respondents unanimously agreed that family and life partners offered the greatest source of joy! So ditch all those theories that christen marriages as ‘hell on earth’.

Love and friendship score highly on all tests of what makes people happy, although love is obviously also capable of making people very unhappy. When it goes well, love satisfies both the desire for self-fulfilment as love is a search for self, and sometimes the desire for recognition, approval and endorsement of identity, hence fulfilling both the male’s extrinsic and female’s intrinsic needs.

Love is, therefore, the common ground on which men and women can source happiness. Nonetheless, there is a general agreement that one need not be in a relationship to be happy, but you do need plenty of friends.

The Coca-Cola Happiness Barometer also revealed another factor that makes men happy — food. When asked what cheers them up, most men (51 per cent) said a hearty meal does the trick.

For women, religion is a key to happiness. Given that religion offers a glimpse of something beyond the self, women find it relaxing and calming. Of the women interviewed, 55 per cent confessed they cheer themselves through fellowship and worship. Thus, while women seek divine intervention in a difficult situation, men opt to sit in front of the telly, or eat and drink to "drown their sorrows".

Great careers

A recent article published by The Observer, a UK magazine, argues that women today ought to be the happiest lot. Reason? They can choose to have great careers, decide whether to have babies or not and walk out of miserable marriages. In the past, women could not afford these luxuries. Yet, even with all the liberties women enjoy, they are still not happy, even with six-figure salaries and figure-eight body shapes. The hundreds of self-help books published annually is indicative of a society of unhappy women.

The key to happiness is not to examine your innermost self or think of yourself as a project to be worked on. Chances are we are most likely to be fulfilled by getting involved in something bigger than ourselves. True happiness, it seems, is losing yourself in something, or someone else.