In the popular and highly moving 2006 biography The Pursuit of Happyness by Gabriele Muccino, actor Will Smith depicts the life-changing experience that a single and jobless father, salesman Chris Gardner, undergoes with his two-year-old son (acted by biological son Jaden Smith).
The hopeless duo finds itself homeless and alone after they are evicted from their San Francisco apartment, and Gardner’s shrew wife walks out on them.
As Gardner desperately searches for a job, he refuses his desperation to define their lives. He holds firm to his dignity, resolve, faith, love and independence. It is that zeal of life by the never-say-die father that makes the movie an emotional roller coaster.
Eventually, Gardner uses his charisma and bounces back to the top as an entrepreneur. Ultimately, the dilemma still remains about what really comprises true happiness, particularly in the modern world. What is happiness? Is happiness an individual or collective experience?
Is it a state of mind or is it brought about by external factors? What makes you happy? These are questions people around the world have grappled with for long. Interesting because happiness is something we usually take for granted, or do not understand its dynamics.
On Tuesday, the world celebrated the International Day of Happiness—a couple of weeks after the release of the second World Happiness Report. The first International Day of Happiness was in 2013 and the day is marked in 193 countries. Rwanda, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, Benin and Togo ranked as the five unhappiest countries in the world, while Denmark was ranked the happiest followed by Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.
Kenya was ranked 123rd out of 156, compared to 2017 when we ranked 134th. Most of the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Isn’t it telling that the unhappiest countries are in Africa, while the happiest are in Scandinavia?
Obviously, we are doing badly, even as we may portray otherwise. Kenyans have little to be happy about, from the economy to their personal lives. Millions of people are jobless as grand corruption thrives. With the erosion of trust, domestic violence is eating the fabric of our homes, while spiritual shepherds are leading their sheep astray. As seen, happiness is not an exclusively economic factor.
Riches and wealth do not necessarily translate into happiness. The US, for instance, does not rank among the topmost countries in the happiness index. Amidst all the technological and economic progress, America has one of the highest number of homicides in the world. A total of 17,250 people were reported killed in the US in 2016, with the number of murders increasing by about 8.6 per cent in comparison to 2015.
The reported US violent crime rate includes murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery and assault. Japan, which is also extremely advanced in these two areas, has one of the highest rates of suicides in the world.
Although the number of suicides in Japan has been declining since 2000 with under 30,000 suicides per year, in 2014 an average of 70 Japanese committed suicide every day. Indeed, many of the rich people in our society are also some of the most miserable.
That is why they hold a high burden per capita of lifestyle diseases, especially those that are stress related. Notwithstanding their material challenges, less economically able people seem to laugh and socialise more as they appreciate life better. Basically, collective happiness is a matter of leadership and governance.
Happier countries are well governed with as many people as possible feeling that they are contended with a country’s state of affairs. They are more confident of the future as their leaders have put in place policies that ensure stability even in the unforeseeable future. But after all is said and done, don’t worry, be happy! The writer is the Executive Director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness. [email protected]