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Jenerali Ulimwengu | Saturday, March 19 2016 | The East African
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Pam Pam! If you’re happy and you know it, stamp your feet, click your tongue, nod your head, and so on. This is what lucky little ones are taught in pre-primary. And they respond with glee because “you are happy and you know, and you want the world to know….”
It’s all very subjective, because the invitation is for the children to manifest outwardly what they feel inside. Once they show that they are indeed happy, the observer has no way to verify this and he/she will have to take it as a given.
But now some people claim they can tell you how happy you are without your telling them, and they have even been rating the world’s countries according to a so-called Happiness Index. This got me wondering how on earth they were able to do such a thing.
Happiness can be such an enigmatic thing. What are the yardsticks, the parameters and the indices? Well, I suppose an unhappy society would be where there is no laughter, there is no music, no dance, no comedians, no clowns. It would be a place where people go about their business exchanging growls for greetings, looking at the ground with wrinkled brows, muttering at themselves.
The happy variety would, again I suppose, be where people are generally gay – get me right, yo! – and where there is plenty of laughter, singing, poetry and merrymaking. Everybody is everybody’s friend, unless, that is, there was an issue over a lover or spouse.
Hunger and happiness
But I also tend to think that all these attributes belong to the superstructure, and that they are informed by the nitty-gritty of productive social relations, who gets what for doing what, and the ability of a given society to take care of that which literally sustains life and maintains a certain equilibrium.
Where there is hunger, there cannot be happiness. A refugee camp, by definition, cannot contain happiness, even if it eats well. A slave cannot be happy even if he plays the role of Uncle Tom. An abused wife, or husband, cannot be happy even if they drive a Lamborghini.
Between material ease on the one hand and intellectual, moral and spiritual balance on the other, a mean must be found for people to be able to say they are truly happy.
Still, it is impossible to develop a proper index. The Happiness Report for 2016 places Tanzania at number 149 in the world, three rungs lower than last year.
You get to wonder, just what happened since last year? I can understand why Kenya was placed at 122, with such feel-good triggers as the fine world-beating track-and-field stars and Wanyama. But why would Tanzania find itself in the neighbourhood of such nightmares as Syria and Afghanistan?
Maybe they need to develop a “felixometer,” a device to gauge felicity so that we are sure of what we are talking about. Take a country like Congo (DR). One big part of it has been a permanent warzone for more than a decade, with hunger, disease, rape and wanton violence the order of the day.
In another part of the country, the party has never stopped, the music is loud and the suit-makers for the Sapeurs (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes, or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People) have never made more money.
How can anyone suppose that such people are gloomier than those in cold, northern Scandinavia, whose countries are frozen for a semester every year? I think it is arbitrary and unfair. Or, take Switzerland, for example, which scores among the highest. And yet in its towns you cannot flush your toilet at night and on Sunday you cannot use your own lawnmower. Plus, they cannot agree on a thing before they do a referendum.
Honestly, I believe there is something amiss about this report, and that is, what does it go out to establish? Richer societies are not necessarily happier for it. Some of them have been utterly consumed by a debilitating materialism, which even the Pope warned against. Some of them are having to live under political cheats and thieves, just like us in Africa. So what’s the fuss all about?
In the end we are likely to find out that happy is as happy does, period.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org