The World Happiness Report reflects the results of a surveys conducted in over 150 countries across the globe. The results are used to create a happiness score for each country. This score is a measure of how happy respondents say they are on a range of issues.
According to the report the happiest people, at a country level, are northern Europeans living in countries like Finland (score of 7.7) , Denmark (7.6), Norway (7.55) and Iceland (7.5).
By contrast the unhappiest people are those of South Sudan (2.8) and the Central African Republic (3.1).
The residents of Afghanistan are the third unhappiest in the world (3.2). At a continental level Africans are unhappiest (average score of African countries is 4.3).
The comparable scores for other continents are Asia (5.2), South America (5.9), North America (6.1), Europe (6.2) and Oceania (7.2).
South Africa has a happiness index of 4.7 placing us 107th out of the 155. South Africa has a slightly higher happiness score than Albania, Venezuela, Cambodian and Palestine. While South Africans tend to be happier than people living in other African countries residents of 70 percent of other countries are happier on average.
The graphic shows the location of countries starting with the least happy. Countries accumulate on the map as the index threshold rises until it finishes with the inclusion of Denmark and Finland.
Perhaps the most striking thing about our Happiness Index is how rapidly it has dropped in the last decade. There has been a drop of over 0.5 index points between 2005/8 and 2016/18 – a 10% decline in our score.
Had this drop not occurred South Africa would now find itself 13 position higher on world rankings placing South Africa on a par with China and Vietnam (ranked 93 and 94 respectively). The drop in South Africa’s score since 2005/8 is one of the bigger declines observed as 85% of countries had a more positive change in their score.
South Africa’s descent in this period closely matches that of US citizens over the same period (-0.44).
The declining happiness of South Africans is sure to have an impact of the upcoming elections. On the one hand unhappier people seem to hold more populist and authoritarian attitudes.
This will be to the benefit of political parties proposing populist measures like the expropriation of land without compensation or the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank. However the data also indicates that happier people are both more likely to vote and, when they do, to vote for the incumbent.
The decline in out happiness score suggests that the turnout rate on May 8 is likely to be relatively low and that there will be a shift away from support for the ruling ANC. However it is not clear to what extent this decline will be offset by populist policies advocated by that party.