The World Happiness Report is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) that has been released every year since 2012. It is based on data from the Gallup World Poll and it ranks 156 countries based on self-reported happiness levels. Respondents from all over the world respond to a range of questions ranking the current state of their lives. The report also examines the factors that contribute to happiness and well-being, focusing on 6 key variables including income, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, trust in government and generosity. Let’s talk about Kenya’s happiness rankings, and what it reflects and means for us.
Kenya and the world happiness report
The questions ask respondents to answer questions ranking their lives on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 as the worst possible and 10 as the best possible. This is then used to determine national averages. Kenya’s rankings shift but we’re almost always in the bottom quarter. Our rankings in the past five years have been:
- 2018 – 124 out of 156 (happier than 32 countries)
- 2019 – 121 out of 156 (happier than 35 countries)
- 2020 – 121 out of 153 (happier than 32 countries)
- 2021 – 121 out of 149 (happier than 28 countries)
- 2022 – 119 out of 146 (happier than 27 countries)
If you’re sad and unhappy, clearly, it’s not just you. We are largely a nation of unhappy people if our rankings are anything to go by.
What makes the bottom countries so unhappy?
The bottom 40 countries which is where Kenya frequently falls have certain unifying qualities:
High levels of poverty and economic inequality: Countries with high poverty rates tend to have a lower standard of living and less access to resources, which can lead to lower levels of happiness. Anyone who’s been broke, poor or living precariously and unable to afford their daily needs knows the connection between happiness and lack. Tanzania finds itself among the unhappy nations for a wide range of reasons key among them many Tanzanians are living below the poverty line. Guinea also finds itself there with Guineans being among the poorest in West Africa.
Political instability and corruption: Countries that are politically unstable, for example, those at war are full of fearful, anxious, unhappy people. It’s no surprise that countries like Afghanistan and South Sudan are perpetually at the bottom. Happiness is difficult to come by in a war zone. For countries plagued by corruption, there’s a lack of trust in government and institutions, as well as poor service delivery which can lead to feelings of insecurity and material lack of necessities.
Lack of access to basic needs: Countries that do not have adequate healthcare and education systems may have lower overall happiness levels, as access to these basic needs is important for individuals to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Chad one of the happiness losers has a variety of problems including poor social and health conditions.
High crime rates: Countries with high crime rates may have lower levels of happiness. Insecurity and the persistent fear of becoming a victim of crime are incompatible with happiness. This is why Ivory Coast is on the list. The country is plagued with violence and life expectancy is low.
Limited civil liberties: Countries that have limited civil liberties and suffer repression under authoritarian governments may have lower levels of happiness due to a lack of freedom and the ability to express oneself freely. This may be the reason for Cambodia which has a leader who took power amid protests and is believed to be fraudulent. In Angola, people reported limited freedom to make life choices. It’s hard to feel happy when you’re not free.
Climate change: Climate change can contribute to many issues, such as natural disasters, water scarcity, and food insecurity which can lead to lower levels of happiness. Aside from military coups, Burkina Faso has experienced massive droughts which contribute to its low happiness ranking. How Climate Change Affects Our Daily Lives
Poor living conditions: Countries with poor living conditions, such as inadequate housing, sanitation, and access to clean water, can lead to lower levels of happiness due to the daily struggles and challenges that come with living in such conditions.
It’s important to note that all of these factors are interconnected and can compound, creating a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. Additionally, these factors may vary among different regions and groups within a country, and not all people within a country will be equally affected. The wealthy, as is their custom, are often insulated in ways that economically precarious people are not.
So, if you’ve been feeling a little down in the dumps or let’s face it, a lot down in the dumps, it’s not just you. Let yourself feel it. Force yourself to look at the things that are making all of us, or at least too many of us sad. All these inescapable systemic issues.
Don’t hide or look away or try to numb it with unhealthy options like drugs or even healthy ones like yoga and meditation. Let yourself feel it, all the pain, hurt, dismay, helplessness, and grief. Anger. Then find a group of people who are also sad and worried about the same systemic issues. There are always people out there. Get mad and organize together. Every good thing in society is a product of organized people who saw decay around them and believing that they could change things began to work towards changing things. Then maybe joy will begin to flow again. The community and mere attempts to fight for a just society are enough to begin to bring joy again. Here’s to finding joy.
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