By Babatunde Ayedoju
Nigeria was recently ranked 95th happiest nation in the world with 4.981 points, according to the latest edition of the World Happiness Report which was released last month by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (based in Columbia University, New York) as part of the 2023 edition of the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness. The report’s focus is on happiness as measured by life evaluations and emotions, how they have evolved in crisis situations, and how people’s lives have improved where trust, generosity, and supportive social connections have thrived.
It assigns a happiness score on a scale of zero to 10, based on an average over a three-year period.
Finland is on top of the list as the world’s happiest country for the sixth year in a row, with a score significantly ahead of all other countries, while Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the ranking in a league table of 137 countries. Denmark remains in second place as Iceland ranks third. Israel is ranked fourth, up five spots from last year. The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland are ranked fifth through eighth. Luxembourg and New Zealand round out the top ten. The United Kingdom dropped two places to 19th, while the United States jumped up one place to 15th. France dropped out of the top 20. Canada, which was ranked 13th, went two places up. Lithuania is the only new country in the top 20, rising more than 30 places since 2017. Eight of the 10 happiest nations were found in Europe, with Denmark scooping second place, at 7.58 points. Mauritius tops African countries with 5.902 points, Algeria (5.329), South Africa (5.275), Congo Brazzaville (5.267), Guinea (5.072), Cote d’Ivoire (5.053) and Gabon (5.035).
War-scarred Afghanistan and Lebanon remain the two unhappiest countries in the survey, retaining bottom spots, with average life evaluations more than five points lower than in the 10 happiest countries.
Sierra Leone also fared poorly, falling to 135th position, ranking the third unhappiest country with 3.14 points. Scientists behind the report concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has not made us unhappier. Self-reported satisfaction remained “remarkably resilient” worldwide between 2020 and 2022 – despite the pandemic, results revealed.
Despite several overlapping global crisis during the period, including the outbreak and war in Ukraine, most countries logged global life satisfaction scores that were just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years, the researchers found. This year, the authors used data from social media to compare people’s emotions before and after the COVID-19 crisi. Interviews with more than 100,000 people across 137 countries revealed that people self-reported significantly higher levels of benevolence — acts of kindness — than before 2020.
The study found there was a “significant increase” in the number of people reporting the happiness effect of ‘having someone to count on in times of trouble’. Globally, 80 per cent of survey respondents said they had someone to count on, which was one of the factors that boosted average life satisfaction during the pandemic years, analysts said. Measures of misery across the world also fell slightly during the three COVID-19 years, researchers found. Despite higher death tolls among elderly people, those aged over 60 on average reported improvements in their happiness relative to younger groups.
The report also marked the first year the rankings take into account Vladimir Putin’s war, with Ukraine ranking 92nd — up six places on 2022. Russia also climbed up the table, ranking in 70th, up ten positions on the previous year. According to the report, both countries shared the global increases in benevolence during 2020 and 2021. However, in 2022, benevolence grew sharply in Ukraine but fell in Russia. Despite the magnitude of suffering and damage in Ukraine, life evaluations in September 2022 remained higher than in the aftermath of the 2014 annexation.
Analysts believe this is because Ukrainians are supported now by a stronger sense of common purpose, benevolence and trust in Ukrainian leadership.
Coming back to Nigeria, it is noteworthy that Nigeria was rated among the happiest set of nations in Africa and even in the world at large. This is in spite of the numerous challenges facing the country such as banditry, unemployment and economic instability. In that case, how realistic could this ranking be? In the opinion of Dr Daniel Ikuomola from the Department of Criminology and Security Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, happiness is relative and difficult to calculate. He said, “This is more like an opinion poll which is not always accurate, just like the last election where some opinion polls were conducted and at the end, the result of the election did not tally with the result of the opinion polls.”
He added that the parametres used for measuring happiness also matter, saying that generally, Nigerians are fun loving and religious people. His words: “We are religious and tend to find consolation in religion, no matter what we face. A musician once used the term “suffering and smiling” to describe Nigerians. That may also make Nigerians to be seen generally as happy people.”
Ikuomola added that the particular set of Nigerians who were studied is another important factor. His words:
“For example, if the Nigerians studied were in the diaspora, that would definitely have affected the result. Meanwhile, Nigerians in the diaspora can also be categorised into various generations. We have some Nigerians who are first, second, third and even fourth generation of Americans whose perspectives and disposition would have changed.
“Above all, Nigerians are very religious people who easily resort to faith and expect God to take over,” he stated. Samson Uwada, a development practitioner, believes that the rating of Nigeria as one of the happiest nations is the world is very accurate because, according to him, Nigerians have a way of making light of their realities, no matter how hard they are, an attitude people described as “catching cruise.” He said, “So we still find a way to smile through the toughest of situations – personal, communal or national. It has its own demerits though, but it’s very true of us as a people,” he added.Tosin Agbanimu, a teacher, believes that Nigerians are happy but the happiness is an illusion, not natural, while Funmilayo Matthew opined that Nigerians are not happy at all.