Older Ugandans unhappy in latest World Happiness Report

Older Ugandans unhappy in latest World Happiness Report
Elderly Ugandans' discontent in 2024 World Happiness Report

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The latest World Happiness Report reveals that Ugandans aged 60 and above constitute the least happy demographic within our society. These individuals have weathered the storm of various tumultuous regimes in the country, spanning from Obote One and Idi Amin to Obote Two and the current administration of President Yoweri Museveni.

This phenomenon of unhappiness among Uganda’s elderly, while not entirely unprecedented, contrasts with the broader trend of global happiness among older populations outlined in the 2024 edition of the World Happiness Report (WHR).

In a comparison of different generations, the report indicates that individuals born before 1965 generally report higher levels of happiness compared to those born after 1980. Furthermore, it notes a decline in self-evaluation of life satisfaction among Millennials (born between the early 1980s and late 1990s) with each passing year of age. Interestingly, on a global scale, young people aged 15 to 24 tend to report higher life satisfaction than older adults.

The question arises: Why are Uganda’s elderly experiencing such discontent? And, more importantly, why should this be of concern?

According to the World Happiness Report Rankings, happiness is universally sought after by every individual and serves as an indicator of social progress. The measurement of happiness encompasses two key aspects: emotional expression, reflecting how one feels on a day-to-day basis, and an evaluation of one’s overall life satisfaction.

While traditional metrics like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have historically dominated the assessment of national development success, there is a growing shift towards prioritizing Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a more comprehensive indicator. This shift underscores governments’ increasing focus on the wellbeing and happiness of their citizens.

Finland has consistently topped the list as the “happiest” country for seven consecutive years, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Israel. On the contrary, Afghanistan ranks as the world’s “unhappiest” nation.

The World Happiness Index, derived from the Gallup World Poll, relies on life evaluations reported by individuals. Utilizing the Cantril Ladder methodology, respondents are asked to rate their current lives on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 representing the best possible life and 0 the worst. These rankings are based on nationally representative samples from over 140 countries surveyed worldwide, with data averaged over three years for enhanced accuracy.

Critically, the World Happiness Index offers insights into happiness trends across different age groups and generations. From 2006 to the present, while there has been minimal change in life evaluation scores across all age groups in Uganda, notable shifts have been observed among specific demographics. Young individuals under 30 years old report increased happiness, whereas older adults aged 60 and above demonstrate significant improvements in life satisfaction. Similarly, individuals aged 45-59 also exhibit noteworthy changes in life evaluation.

The report provides detailed sections analyzing happiness levels and trends among different age groups, including the younger demographic below 30 years old, older individuals aged 60 and above, and two intermediate groups aged 30-44 and 45-59, respectively.

Quantifying happiness

The assessment of happiness relies heavily on the personal evaluations provided by individual respondents, predominantly centered around their responses to the singular Cantril ladder life-evaluation query.

Researchers delve into six key variables, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption, to elucidate the variations in life evaluations across countries. These variables, akin to factors affecting life expectancy studied by epidemiologists, collectively account for over three-quarters of the divergence in national average ladder scores across different countries and years. Selected based on their significant associations with subjective well-being, these variables shed light on the intricate dynamics underlying life evaluations.

Furthermore, the report adopts a three-way split for generational analysis: individuals born before 1965, those born between 1965 and 1980, and those born after 1980. However, it acknowledges that optimal separation points for generational differences may vary depending on each country’s pivotal historical events. In Uganda, for instance, the three groups represent distinct eras, encompassing periods under Obote One, Idi Amin, Obote Two, and the tenure of President Yoweri Museveni.

Living through past periods of violence, such as those under Obote, Amin, and Museveni, significantly influences individuals’ life evaluations, leaving enduring imprints on their lives. This is evident in countries like Rwanda, where the average life evaluation of individuals aged 60 and above is substantially lower than that of younger age groups.

The delineation of age groups is crucial for assessing happiness across different stages of life. While some countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain, show higher levels of happiness among older individuals compared to the youth, others exhibit the opposite trend.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, life evaluations tend to be highest among the youth, followed by relatively similar scores in the two middle age groups, with males generally reporting higher levels of happiness compared to females in the 60+ age category.

On the African continent, Libya tops the happiness rankings at number 66 globally, followed by Mauritius (77), South Africa (83), Nigeria (102), and Ethiopia (130). Notably, several East African countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and Somalia, were not included in the research.

Happiness across East Africa

Among the countries assessed in the East African region, Kenya emerges with the highest level of happiness, securing the 114th position on the global Happiness Index. Uganda follows closely at number 117, with Tanzania trailing behind at number 131.

Uganda’s standing on the Happiness Index has shown a positive trend in recent years, with gradual improvements noted. The lowest rankings were observed in 2015 and 2016, when the country occupied the 141st and 146th positions, respectively.

The scope of the survey has expanded over time, encompassing 149 countries in 2013 and increasing to 156 countries by 2018. Over this period, the six East African nations have exhibited diverse performance trends.

In 2013, Uganda claimed the title of the happiest country in the region, ranking 120th globally. Kenya followed closely as the second happiest at 123, with Tanzania securing the third position at 151. Rwanda and Burundi trailed behind at 152 and 153, respectively. South Sudan was not included in the World Happiness Report rankings.

However, by 2015, Uganda experienced a decline in happiness, sliding to 141st place. Kenya also witnessed a dip, albeit at a slower pace, dropping two spots to 125th. Similarly, Rwanda and Burundi reported decreased happiness levels, descending to 154th and 157th positions, respectively. Notably, only Tanzania showed improvement, climbing to 146th place.

In 2016, Uganda’s happiness continued to diminish, plummeting to 146th place. Conversely, Kenya and Rwanda exhibited improvements, with Kenya rising to 122nd and Rwanda to 152nd. Burundi remained stagnant at 157th, while South Sudan, despite ongoing civil strife, made its first appearance in the rankings, ranking 143rd. Tanzania experienced a decline, ranking 149th.

In 2017, happiness rankings across the region fluctuated, with Uganda at 133rd, Kenya at 112th, Tanzania at 153rd, Rwanda at 151st, and Burundi at 154th. In 2018, Uganda maintained its position at 135th, while Kenya rose slightly to 124th. Tanzania remained stagnant at 153rd, with Rwanda at 151st and Burundi at the bottom at 156th. Notably, South Sudan ranked as one of the unhappiest places, positioned at 154th, just two spots from the bottom.

Navigating the complexity of happiness

Happiness is a multifaceted concept, with individual perceptions varying widely. Factors that contribute to one person’s happiness may not necessarily elicit the same response in another. For instance, if individuals report lower levels of happiness or satisfaction, it begs the question: Is it a consequence of deteriorating conditions or escalating expectations?

From an economic standpoint, prioritizing happiness can compel businesses to redefine success beyond mere profitability. This shift prompts organizations to consider additional metrics, including environmental and social impact on employees, communities, and the nation at large.

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Research conducted by Oxford University’s Said Business School underscores the correlation between happiness and productivity, revealing a 13% increase in worker efficiency when employees experience positive emotions regularly. This focus on affective wellbeing highlights the significance of fostering happiness in the workplace.

Bhutan, a small Himalayan kingdom, notably embraced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in its constitution in 2008. GNH encompasses nine measurable domains, ranging from psychological wellbeing to ecological diversity, meticulously assessed through 33 indicators. Bhutan’s commitment to prioritizing happiness gained international recognition, culminating in the adoption of Resolution 65/309 by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, urging nations to integrate happiness and wellbeing into development agendas.

The inception of the World Happiness Report in 2012 marked a pivotal moment in the global discourse on happiness and wellbeing. Produced by the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, the report serves as a comprehensive assessment of happiness levels worldwide, urging governments to prioritize happiness and wellbeing in policymaking.

As societies grapple with mounting challenges, the imperative to prioritize happiness gains urgency. Recognizing the interconnectedness of personal and societal wellbeing, the World Health Organization highlights the rising prevalence of depression and emphasizes the significance of fostering happiness at both individual and national levels.