How political shifts, sporting wins and pandemics affect our happiness

How did you feel when Mmusi Maimane resigned as the leader of the DA towards the end of 2019? How did you feel when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup soon after? And how have you felt in the wake of COVID-19?

Talita Greyling, a researcher in the field of well-being economics and development at UJ, has been looking into what makes South Africans happy. Together with Auckland’s Dr Stephanie Rossouw and technology monitoring company AFSTEREO, she recently released a study on the topic, The Happiness Index. The index analyses sentiments on Twitter, and uses this information to gauge levels of happiness on a scale from one to 10 (where 10 is the happiest) among South Africans as they respond to certain events.

After the disruptions in the DA, South Africa’s happiness index rose to 6.66. Many tweets suggested that people were pleased about the breakaway and hoped for new political developments that would help address poverty, unemployment and inequality. This level of happiness jumped even higher a couple of weeks later, when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup final.

Happiness in the country, however, has since plummeted. Since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in South Africa on 6 March, The Happiness Index has recorded an all-time low of 5.29. This figure is 15% below daily averages and is expected to decrease further as South Africans deal with the reality of lockdown. The majority of the emotions expressed on Twitter during March spoke of distrust, anticipation and fear.

We are living in uncertain times, and our happiness is a reflection of this. There is no doubt that The Happiness Index will be an interesting tool to follow in the weeks and months to come.