It’s Not All About Money: 14 Happiest Countries In Africa

Written by Dana Sanchez

Look at a map of the Geography of Happiness, and you’ll see the world’s happiest countries are colored green while the unhappiest are red. If this map is correct, Africa is the unhappiest continent on the map — lots of red. The World Happiness Report, published since 2012, found less evidence of happiness in Africa than in other region, according to the Gallup World Poll ratings of happiness.

This year’s report did an in-depth study of Africa.

Despite recent declines in oil prices, oil-rich Norway moved into the top spot, illustrating that happiness depends on much more than income, the U.N. said in a press release.

The four happiest countries in the world — Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland — rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

Gallup surveyed about 1,000 residents per African country polled in 85 languages, targeting civilian, non-institutionalized people age 15 and older. In 2016, face-to-face surveys were used in all of Sub-Saharan Africa and most of North Africa.

The country that ranked happiest in Africa was No. 53 — about a third of the way down the list of 155 countries surveyed in the Gallup poll.

Geography of Happiness. Source: Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative

African countries were disproportionately represented at the very bottom of the list, occupying No. 147 spot through No. 155. Syria, at No. 152, was the only non-African country in the bottom nine.

Why so sad?

African people expected that their countries and lives would be better under self-rule and democracy. Those expectations don’t appear to have been met, according to the authors of the report’s Africa chapter — “Waiting For Happiness In Africa” by Valerie Møller, Benjamin J. Roberts, Habib Tiliouine, and Jay Loschky.

Africans’ low levels of happiness compared to other countries in the world might be attributed to disappointment with different aspects of development under democracy, the authors said. Although most citizens still believe that democracy is the best political system, they are critical of good governance in their countries.

There has been significant improvement in meeting basic needs, according to the Afrobarometer index of lived poverty. However, population pressures may have stymied infrastructure and youth development.

Still African people are essentially optimistic, demonstrating ingenuity that makes life bearable under difficult circumstances, the authors concluded. A lot of that optimism comes from the youth, who have their lives ahead of them. Coping with poor infrastructure is one way African people have shown resilience. This optimism might become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the continent.

If the African youth’s confidence in their future and their entrepreneurial spirit was matched by substantial investment in their development, African countries would
join the ranks of the world’s prosperous and happy nations, the authors of the Happiness Report Africa chapter conclude.

“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative.

We’re highlighting the 14 happiest African countries.