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Are Africans happy? 'Return to laughter' in times of war, famine and misery

Kohnert, Dirk (2022): Are Africans happy? 'Return to laughter' in times of war, famine and misery.

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Abstract

Happiness is a universal state of mind. However, its meaning takes on culture-specific forms, ranging from emotional states of mind to life satisfaction. The definition of 'happiness' is strongly influenced by the respective philosophical background and material living conditions and is shaped by linguistic differences. Even within countries, location and social structure are important in the conceptualization and measurement of wellbeing. Exceptions prove the rule. In Laura Bohannan’s classic anthropological study of the Tiv in the Nigerian Middle Belt in the 1950s, the ‘return to laughter’ signified the laughter of despair, e.g. when people laughed at human misery given omnipresent witchcraft. Another exemption of the rule is related to COVID-19 lockdowns that were associated with a drop in satisfaction, regardless of country-specific characteristics or the type and duration of the lockdown. In Sub-Saharan Africa both the level of happiness and the level of income have shown increasing tendencies in recent decades. However, trends in inequality between indicators of income and happiness can diverge significantly. In general, happiness does not automatically increase with increasing income but lags behind. As shown by the economy of happiness, this paradox does not appear to occur in countries like South Africa, the most unequal country in the world. The country registered growing equality of happiness despite rising income inequality. Obviously, the absolute impact of income and happiness inequality at the country level is more important than the relative impact. Hence, happiness inequality, in general, can be a useful supplementary measure of inequality, particularly in Africa, which is considered a 'black spot' when it comes to happiness research.

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