Between Fake And Real Happiness In Nigeria

Between Fake And Real Happiness In Nigeria

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 10:43 am

Ademola Adegbamigbe

The exercise took place in an open park, with green grass, trees, and shrubs forming a scintillating background. In that open field in Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, were men, women, old and small. Leader of the team taught them to be happy. At a point they lay flat on their backs, laughing at the firmament. At another, they faced one another, laughing heartedly. In the beginning, the smiles were stiff and plastic, but like wild fire, it caught on among the participants, including Sanjay Gupta, Cable News Network, CNN, chief medical correspondent. In that CNN documentary, he smiled along with his hosts. He was in that country to find out exactly why it was voted the best in this year’s World’s Happiest Country report, produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Denmark was ranked first also in 2012 and 2013. With a population of 5.5 million, the Danes, as the UK Telegraph put it, has, since 1973, topped the European Commission’s Enrobarometer scale “where member states are surveyed to measure the well-being and happiness of its citizens”.

Ademola Adegbamigbe

Ademola Adegbamigbe

Nigeria, as the BBC reported was, in 2003, voted the happiest country by the UK’s New Scientist magazine. That was after a survey of more than 65 countries. Mexico ranked second that year. It said the happiest people live in Nigeria, while the saddest were in Romania – home of the Gypsies. Nigeria repeated this feat in a 2010 Gallop global poll, which had it that Nigeria “has the happiest people on earth”. That was based on a poll of 64,000 people, spread across 53 countries. The meat of the report was that Nigerians were the most optimistic.

In 2012, however, Denmark overtook Nigeria, which placed 100th in that United Nations survey on national mood. That year, Denmark was at the top of the scale of the 158-page document which covered more countries (158). Forbes also ranked Nigeria as the 20th saddest nation in its 2013 report. Its travelling companion was Central African Republic, which carried the trophy for being the most glum! The sunshine side of the report was that Norway was the happiest, while Denmark and Sweden, Scandinavian countries all, were rated second and third, in that order. When it marked the International Day of Happiness, a United States-based group, Jetpac, put Nigeria as 58th in the world’s happiest nations and 6th in Africa. That was in March this year.

Why has Nigeria lost the number one position which it occupied in 2003? I believe that maybe our country was never really number one. This is because, some of the conclusions were, perhaps, based on false premises, meaning that Nigerians were never really happy. For example, the 2010 Gallop Global Poll which ranked Nigeria the happiest based it on our optimism, which is quite different from reality on ground, a replay of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s lyric, Suffering and Smiling:

Every day my people dey inside bus (suffering and smiling) x 2
Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing.
Them go pack themselves like sardine
Them day faint, then dey wake like cock
Them go reach house, water no dey
Them go reach bed, power no dey
Them go reach road, go-slow go come
Them go reach road, police go slap
Them go reach road, army go whip
Them go look pocket, money no dey
Them go reach work, query ready
Everyday na the same thing…

Also, the surveys, over the years, were done by different organisations with different orientations and wherewithal to carry out rigorous research. One must not also forget the fact that the initial surveys were based on fewer countries, 65 in 2003 and 158 countries in 2012 by the UN. The other point that is worth mentioning is that our smiles were – and still are – not real. They do not come straight from the heart, an optimistic smile that tells the observer that things will be better, despite the excruciating circumstances. Suffering and smiling…

Jetpac got this right when it ranked people, “not by how happy they are but by their actual smiles”. It did this by doing image processing on over 150 million Instagram photographs to “count and size the smiles on people’s faces from all the cities in the world”. With that, Jetpac said it was able to come up with a smile score for every city in every country. Smiles on the faces of millions of people in millions of photos, as the organisation put it, are the most direct measure we have of happiness. Previous attempts to measure happiness have, as Jetpac argued, relied on survey questions or indirect measures. But its style was that it identified smiles on faces and then measured their shapes and sizes. “A small grin,” it wrote, “doesn’t score as highly as a broad smile.”

If an individual is truly happy, it means it comes from the inside, he has no fears about the future, the environment is right and he experiences or fears no oppression. According to the 2012 Gallup report, for most individuals in the high income world, there is enough food, shelter, basic amenities… But the poor, as the report indicated, “suffer from dire deprivations of various kinds”. That is why Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and one of the brains behind the World Happiness Report, said: “There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people… More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world.”

Here lies my point. As 2015 inches closer, politicians are crawling out to vie for elective positions: presidency, governorship seats, National Assembly, legislatures of states and others. What should matter most to them is to put the real happiness of the people as the centre piece of their programmes. Also, these should be the basis by the electorate to make their choices (good and affordable education, health, social welfare, security, empowerment, shelter, abundant food, power supply, industrialisation). That is why the Danes are number one.

Suffering and smiling is not true happiness. It is the form of mirthfulness induced by alcohol, a proof that in a depressed economy, watering holes thrive! The danger in this is that our leaders should not be deceived by the artificial grin on every hungry face (just because rulers give them rice or food or recharge card or N5,000 to secure their votes). It is like the way Shakespeare in Julius Caesar describes Casca, as someone who laughs as if mocking himself. When Nigerians laugh at their leaders, it is not only mockery, but a veneer that, one day they would shake themselves free – violently. Ask the kidnappers, brigands and other desperados that daily target the high and the mighty. The situation could be worse with mob actions.

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