Monday, March 24, 2014


Yesterday was the International Day of Happiness and Uganda was found to be the happiest country in the East African Community according to a United Nations report released for the day.

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions World Happiness report found that Uganda was 119th in a ranking of 154 countries according to their levels of happiness. This was ahead of Kenya at 121st, Tanzania 149th, Rwanda 150th and Burundi 151st.

Commemorating World Happiness Day begun in 2012 in recognition of the relevance of happiness as an indicator of wellbeing and development.

Classical economists may not have trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of happiness as an indicator of wellbeing but may argue about how to measure happiness in an objective way.
In measuring happiness the report took into account the GDP per capita, life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity.

In the top tier of the rankings are the Scandinavians – Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, whose welfare states have a long history of inclusive development.

The US 17th, Germany 26th, Japan 43rd and China 92nd, the world’s biggest economies, preform dismally in relative terms.

Using their measure of happiness it seems that a level of economic development while necessary is not a guarantee of the happiness.

The challenge of any research is cultural bias, so for instance in west if I press the switch and the light comes on or not can have a bearing on my happiness – or in Kampala. In a remote corner of the country they do not expect electricity – either because of persistent power outages or that they don’t have access altogether, an absence of power may not affect the village’s level of happiness. If there was loadshedding in Copenhagen or Stockholm for an hour or two however, there might be mass hysteria.

The same case can be made for the other criteria the report’s authors used.

But the difficulty of measuring happiness does not take away from its importance in our lives or reduce its validity as a measure of development. Everything we do in life is with happiness as the ultimate aim, to the extent that we achieve happiness it can be argued can be related to our level of development or lack of thereof.

To use the analogy of a business, profit maybe the ultimate aim but it is achieved as a byproduct of providing goods and services to a demanding public. To go out and aim for profit directly is akin to being on the soccer pitch and focussing on the score board instead of playing the game.

The same with happiness, you cannot achieve it by being determined to be happy but by a roundabout way .

Which brings us to the issue of development.

Whereas there can be year-on-year economic growth – an increase in output, there may not be development, where this economic growth is spread more equitably.

A more developed economy, as defined above, would have happier people than a less developed economy.

Economic growth is critical for development but is not an end in itself. This latest endeavour comes out of growing realisation of this by the masters of the universe. The UN’s Human Development Index, which has been in effect since 1990 was the previous one to recognise that economic growth is not enough but its impact on the community should be the end.

Happiness is an ethereal concept but the sooner we get our planners to wrap their minds around it as a goal to aim for the better for us.

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