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If youre happy and you know it . . .


If youre happy and you know it . . . But then of course you may be happy and not know it; or perhaps you are not happy and do know it, or possibly unhappy and dont know it. But best of all, you could be one of those people who couldnt care either way!

The pursuit of happiness is something which a large chunk of the modern world is preoccupied with. Bookstore shelves everywhere are groaning with the weight of self-help manuals designed to help readers achieve that all-elusive state of being. But what does it mean to be happy? And, like empowerment, how do you know when you have achieved it.

Defining happiness, I think, is less important than figuring out how to achieve it. And thats where we as Africans come in. Apparently we have uncovered the secret to happiness. In surveys of people the world over, Africans always seem to come out tops as the happiest peoples in the world.

When I started travelling around southern Africa my personal observation was that the poorer countries were, the nicer and more helpful the people seemed. In Malawi, for instance, people would rush to assist and were generally positive and upbeat. In South Africa, by contrast, people were generally not very helpful and often quite stroppy.

If one was to extrapolate this observation to the rest of the world, it would help to explain the results of the happiness surveys: The poorer people are, the happier they seem. The most obvious question following this conclusion is: Since we are all preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness, why are we all trying to acquire more wealth?

According to the BBC website, however, a survey commissioned in 2003 by New Scientist magazine ranked Nigeria as the country with the highest percentage of happy people. Well that puts paid to my theory I think, but still keeps Africans at the top of the happiness index.

I am tempted to believe that the pursuit of happiness is a Western construct. Yebo, yes! Heres why: When I think of my grandmother working her fields from day to day (and occasionally I was fortunate enough to join her there), when I think of her bearing children, shelling peanuts, weaving reed mats (amacansi/maponde) and later in the evenings, roasting mealies and telling stories around the fire, I dont see her pausing in that moment of clarity that precedes sleep to wonder whether she was happy on not.

I think its the same with community engagement in traditional African society. While our friends in the West will be at great pains to point out to us how unfair our patriarchal societies were, how oppressed women were and how badly their rights were infringed upon, this is a rather biased viewpoint, and is probably borne of large measures of both fear and ignorance.

In reality, our communities worked well. Everyone knew their role and what was expected form them. Women knew what it meant to be a woman and men how to be men. All parties had rights as well as responsibilities.

People were empowered and there was a lot less pressure. They didnt sit around asking each other: Are you happy? They simply got on with it and while they werent looking, happiness happened.

Today, we supposedly have equal rights. We work in the same spaces as men, lead where they lead and compete with them on every platform, whether it be business, politics, social or sport. Yes indeed, we match them move for move, yet still the words of the delectable Jill Scott ring true: But baby, are you happy?

I think of the colleagues I have who are working in the First World. They work. They are consumed by their work and the results show. They produce brilliant, high -quality products and services and they are rewarded handsomely for it.

I remember how shocked I felt when I discovered a friend in New York was paying more in rent alone than my monthly gross salary! Yes, they work hard and they make a lot of money. But ask them if they are happy and you will not get the same jolly and laid-back response you would get in the streets of Bulawayo, Harare or Gwanda.

Of course, the down side to this is we tend to entertain a lot of mediocrity because of our tendency to accept the status quo.

Without the burning fire of ambition that usually results from being unhappy with ones present circumstances, its all too easy to slow down progressive ideas and to shy away from challenges which could help us stretch and grow.

At the end of the day, I believe that happiness is a choice. And whether you are in Murambinda or Filabusi, Paris or Geneva, you make your own happiness by choice every day.

Do we need to spend time ruminating about whether we have it or not? My vote is a No! We should simply get on with it, much like my grandmother did. So do go ahead and clap your hands, stamp your feet, nod your head and say Amen if you are happy and you know it!

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers comments can be sent to


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