Is Botswana really unhappiest place on earth?
by Sonny Serite
After Sunday Standard newspaper published a report that indicated Botswana was the unhappiest place on earth, the topic went viral on social network sites as Batswana expressed their differing views on the issue.
Infact, Iím of the feeling the researchers who compiled the report should have used social network sites to gather the happiness or lack thereof amongst Batswana because it appears Batswana express themselves better or freely through this platform.
Through Facebook, you could gauge the happiness and unhappiness of Batswana. The issue also brought out both the ignorance and the insightfulness of our people. As you would expect, the issue was immediately politicised. And as you might not be surprised, supporters from opposition parties ululated at the report and vouched for its truthfulness and authenticity.
The ruling party supporters, on the other hand, didnít take kindly to the report and according to my friend from the BDP, MacD Peloetletse, the people who compiled the report must have been high on some deadly drugs. To guys in the opposition, the report vindicates their daily gospel that the ruling party makes us an unhappy nation while to the ruling party supporters, the report taints the image of their party, which is currently entrusted with ensuring the happiness of this nation. A BDP supporter says the researchers were sponsored by opposition parties but he suddenly gets gape-mouthed (wa athama) when I ask if his assertion means all positive reports on Botswana are therefore sponsored by the BDP.
A quick search through the internet led me to this damning report by the New Economics Foundationís Happy Planet Index. Infact browsing further on the internet led me to other reports which similarly sought to find the happiest and unhappiest countries on earth. There is another one called World Happiness Report which was compiled by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeff Sachs from the Earth Institute at the Columbia University.
As I read through the comprehensive reports, I realised that most of Batswana who commented on the issue through social network sites were ignorant of these well documented reports. They never attempted to find out how the researchers came to the conclusion Botswana was the unhappiest place on earth and how Denmark was rated the happiest country in the whole world. To most of our people here, happiness means being able to afford a smile on regular basis. It means not whining from time to time. I will therefore confine my opinion on the state of our nationís happiness to what our people view as total happiness. I will not, unlike the researchers, dwell much on the state of world happiness, cases of happiness and misery and policy implications on happiness and unhappiness.
You see, happiness is a state of mind. What makes me happy doesnít necessarily have to make you happy. I had a conversation with MacD Peloetletse on this issue and he being an activist of the ruling party, we dissected the issue from a political aspect. Peloetletse argues that Botswana is the happiest country in the world. He says Batswana are the happiest nation on earth. For the first time in my political debates with him, I find myself compelled to agree with him this time around. MacD says if Batswana were unhappy, they would have long shown their unhappiness by voting out the ruling party. He is right, I think. MacD also gives examples of countries that make Botswana the happiest country.
Like I said, Iím not tackling the issue from a technical angle but rather through simple and general observations of happiness. For me there could be only two explanations as to why Batswana generally come across as a happy nation. It could be that Batswana are generally a people that never publicly display their unhappiness. They can smile even when unhappy. It could also be that Batswana look at other countries where happiness is a taboo and feel the little happiness they enjoy is enough and therefore it would be unreasonable to expect any more than that.
My observation is, Batswana are happy with being unhappy as they feel they donít have control over that which makes them happy or unhappy. Therefore it is very difficult to argue that Batswana are unhappy when they do not show or say it. I suspect the researchers asked our people individually and privately for them to conclude we are an unhappy country. Knowing Batswana, in public they can claim to be happy and would rather complain in private.
One of the basic question that was asked was, ďAre you happy?Ē This got me thinking as to how Denmark ended up taking the first position as the happiest place on earth. You see, in Denmark it is legal to smoke dagga and now how do you expect people who enjoy the freedom to smoke dagga to say they are not happy? Another argument brought up by MacD is, it is totally absurd to suggest people in Syria are happier than us in Botswana. While it appears the researchers used different methodologies to measure this happiness and unhappiness, my friend argues his point from political stability and tolerance found in our country. It is on this basis that I totally agree with MacD that Botswana sits pretty well ahead of many countries if happiness is determined by those aspects of democracy. I donít think the people in Zimbabwe are happier than us here. I mean, for how many years have I been critiquing my president happily knowing (or assuming) he respects my right to critique and criticize him while in Zimbabwe you canít live happily after writing something negative about the Zimbabwean president.