By Dr Angela Lusigi
The International Day of Happiness, celebrated annually on March 20, is a day to recognize the importance of happiness in people’s lives and reiterate the fact that happiness is a fundamental human goal. Yet, for many Africans, happiness as currently defined is still out of reach. The 2023 World Happiness Report and similar indicators of happiness reveal that once again African countries are lagging behind.
In my previous article, I made the case that Africa’s poor performance on the global index is because happiness in the African context is a function of many things beyond income, such as community and culture. The recent happiness report points at an urgent need to explore the factors that contribute to growing our happiness. A key factor that contributes to happiness is resilience and leveraging this could help to improve Africa’s performance.
Resilience is commonly referred to as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties and setbacks. It is also defined as ‘the positive adaptation of an individual, despite the presence of significant challenges’. History is filled with examples of Africans’ experience with adversities and the use of sheer ingenuity to navigate harsh living circumstances occasioned by political instability, economic challenges, and natural disasters. Whereas evidence suggests that we develop our resilience when we are forced to face adversity, resilience can be even more powerful when it is intentionally leveraged. To this end, I propose three levels of resilience that African countries can draw upon to increase their happiness: inner resilience, community resilience, and pan-African resilience.
Inner resilience taps our knowledge, skills, and innovation
One of our strengths as Africans is our inner resilience, the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our people. Harnessing our knowledge, skills, and innovative capacity to develop homegrown solutions to our development challenges can help improve happiness. Locally contextualised innovative solutions build on our unique culture, values and attitudes which are key determinants of sustainable happiness. By identifying and investing in these homegrown solutions, we can equip more people with the tools to face similar challenges and improve their well-being. Embedding traditional knowledge and skills in emerging technology will ensure cultural preservation and the integration of marginalised segments of society and communities that are the custodians of traditional knowledge, in the development process.
Community resilience draws on our family networks and culture
In a continent where majority of the citizens are vulnerable to shocks and have no access to insurance, community resilience becomes significant. Guided by philosophies such as Ubuntu and Harambee, family, community and culture are at the heart of many African societies. These aspects play a significant role in shaping individuals and contributes to their collective happiness by offering a sense of belonging and support. When faced with challenges, community resilience allows members to overcome them by drawing on the strength of their family, culture and community networks. By strengthening community resilience, we can create a stronger sense of security and encourage more community-led initiatives, such as mutual aid groups and social enterprises that help to build a more equitable society.
Pan African resilience is powered by our integration across borders
African countries are already closely linked through the movement of people, goods, and services across borders. Breaking down barriers to integrate across borders beyond our sub-regions can lead to increased economic transformation, investment and cross-cultural understanding, all of which can contribute to the happiness of Africans. By integrating our ingenuity, productivity, and individual resilience across countries, we can build our collective resilience as a continent. As with community resilience, we can draw on the strength of our regional networks to overcome existing challenges. Accelerating initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers a perfect opportunity to enhance Pan-African resilience and to leverage our key resources in addressing common challenges.
While African countries may lag behind on the happiness index, we have the potential to leverage our resilience to increase happiness. As we celebrate World Happiness Day, let us remember that happiness is not just a destination but a journey, and our resilience is one of the ways to making that journey a success. By building resilience at the individual, community, and pan-African levels, African countries can improve the lives of their people and move up the happiness index. Let’s take this World Happiness Day as an opportunity to reflect on what makes us happy and to take action to create more happiness in our lives and the lives of those around us.
The writer is the UNDP Resident Representative in Ghana