The interesting thing to note is that the happiest people in the world today are found in the least materialistic societies. Ed Diener, a University of Illinois Psychologist observes that “materialism is toxic for happiness”.
In an article titled, “Psychologists now know what makes people happy”, (New York Times of Sept 2009), Marilyn Elias wrote that “ it was apparent that the happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and most importantly forgive easily”.
Happiness is individually defined and when people stop looking outside of themselves to be happy then they start to find happiness in the simple day to day things. This was indeed established in a recent survey done in the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on the level of happiness of the people in the region.
Kenyans came up top as the happiest and the most optimistic in the region and had a happiness score of 79% compared to Tanzanian 69% and Ugandans 63%. The survey on happiness was conducted by Coca Cola and is based on a theory emerging from Bhutan a state in Asia recommending the “use of the national mood instead of economic statistics as a measure of social development”.
A good health as opposed to money, to most Kenyans is what makes them happy. Further more “money means less for the self employed than the employed”. Perhaps being in control of one’s ife through self employment, is more pay than being subject to the whims of an employer.
In general however, money “forms the least worry in Kenyan lives”. Only married people appeared to attach money to their happiness. Good health and knowing those around you were alright, was the greatest source of happiness for most Kenyans in particular those above the age of 35 years.
More unemployed people needed peace because they remembered to pray for a peaceful night than their employed counter parts. Lack of employment leaves one uncertain of how to meet their needs and those dependent on them. This challenges one’s peaceful existence hence the need to pray for peace. Lack of peace takes away ones happiness and leads to stress.
For teenagers aged between 13 years to 19 years, their greatest source of happiness lay with family and friends. This was more important to them than even good health and food. More youths in Tanzania and Uganda derived happiness in sports than their Kenyan counter parts.
The surprising thing of all youths in the region is that they derived much pleasure in attending church. They regarded the church as a place for meeting friends, one of their source for happiness. Kenyan youths led the region in deriving pleasure from church going.
The other group that valued good friends as a source of happiness were the rich. 99 % of them associated their happiness to good friends compared to 61% of those who were poor and 58% of those in the middle class. This makes sense for the higher one climbs the ladder of success the rare genuine friends one has.
Those who were employed found their work as a great source of happiness than friends and even spouse. For those who were poor, having three meals a day was a great source of happiness.
It would appear from this survey that Kenyans have learnt to live one day at a time and appreciate the many blessings in their lives instead of focusing on what is not. Psychologist suggest that gratitude is a great asset for happiness.
Learning to savor even small pleasures goes along way in creating happiness. The other trait linked to happiness is forgiveness. According to Christopher Peterson, University of Michigan Psychologist, “It’s the queen of all virtues, and probably the hardest to come by,”.
This hold true because although Kenyans scored high in their level of happiness, they conceded that they experience great challenges in their lives. Some parts of the country are ravaged with drought with the cost of living just as high and neither is local politics very encouraging.
Perhaps Kenyans are learning or have learnt that they determine their happiness and life eventually is determined by what we as individuals make it.