How Africa fared at Global Happiness Ranking — an Africa-centric analysis of the World Happiness Report

Apr 17, 2019 · 6 min read


Measuring happiness

The World Happiness Report does this, making available insights garnered from the Gallup World Poll surveying some 160 countries.

The rankings of country happiness in the 2019 World Happiness Report are based on the polled results from the Gallup World Poll survey of 156 countries from 2016–2018.

Happiness measure in each of the countries surveyed is based on how people in each country evaluate the quality of their current lives on a scale of 0 to 10 — (what we will continue to refer to as life evaluation), the average frequency of positive emotions, laughter, happiness and enjoyment they felt the previous day (positive affect) and the average frequency of negative emotions like sadness, worry and anger experienced by individuals the previous day (negative affect). Beyond this evaluation, six other variables were also considered to explain how countries rank on the global happiness report. These variables are GDP per capita (based on purchasing power parity), social support (based on an average national response to this: “if you are in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?”), healthy life expectancy, freedom (like “are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?”), generosity (based on how individuals donated money to charity in past month), and the absence of corruption.

The Ranking

For better understanding and ease of analysis, we shall divide the countries into three parts: the First 52, the Second 52, and the Third 52. In the First 52, we have the happiest countries such as Finland as 1st, Denmark as 2nd and Norway as 3rd. The Second 52 comprise countries ranked 53rd to 104th on the global ranking. These countries are considered to be the ‘averagely happy countries’ of the world; including Thailand, Nigeria, Russia, Algeria and Morocco. The Third 52 countries are ranked 105th to 156th, and are regarded as the “not-so-happy (or the least happy) countries”, such as Tanzania, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.

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There are no African countries in the First 52; in other words, none of the 54 countries in Africa are in the category of the happiest countries globally. In the Second 52, there are 11 African countries, which are the following along with their ranks: Mauritius (57th), Libya (72nd), Nigeria (85th), Algeria (88th), Morocco (89th), Cameroon (96th), Ghana (98th), Ivory Coast (99th), Benin (102nd), Congo Brazzaville (103rd) and Gabon (104th). In the Third 52 group, there are 35 African countries, of which Malawi (150th), Rwanda (152nd), Tanzania (153rd), Central African Republic (155th) and South Sudan (156th) hold the lowest positions on the ranking.

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Happiness League Table (source: World Happiness Report)

As evident above and in the report, the top countries in the happiness ranking tend to have high values for most of the key variables that have been found to support well-being, including income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

When comparing the changes in life evaluation and happiness levels over a longer span of ten years (from 2005–2008 to 2016–2018), the 28 Sub-Saharan African countries showed a spread of experiences; 13 had significant gains, 10 significant loses.

Among the top twenty gainers of the 132 countries compared, five are in Africa. These five are (Benin, Togo, Congo Brazzaville, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon). Also, six nations in Sub-Saharan Africa — (South Africa, Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, Central African republic, and Botswana) — were among the top 20 countries with the largest loses in happiness levels. The appearance of Sub-Saharan African countries among the biggest gainers and the biggest losers, according to the report, reflects the variety and volatility of experiences among the countries.

We believe it is worth noting the big changes in life evaluation experienced within the last decade in Benin, a French-speaking nation in West Africa, by comparing results from the earliest Gallup World Poll (2005–2008) to the most recent polls (2016–2018). Of all 156 countries, Benin was the biggest gainer, up 50 places in the ranking.


There is much evidence — as referenced in the report — that those who live happier lives are likely to live longer, be more trusting, be more cooperative and be generally better able to meet life’s demands. This feeds back to improve health, GDP, generosity, corruption — or the fight against it — and sense of freedom.

While the 2019 World Happiness Report helps draw attention to the changes in the distribution of happiness around the world — especially as it varies country-by country, it notes that the effect of happiness equality are often larger and more systemic than those of income inequality. Social trust, for instance, which is often found to be lower where income inequality is greater, is mostly more connected to the inequality of subjective well-being. As also evident in Southeast Asia, inequality has risen on the steep in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a cue for the need to promote happiness as the goal of policy making across the world — and especially in Africa, and seek effective ways of delivering happiness. Government institutions and policies set the stages on which lives are lived, and these changes in policies might enable citizens to lead happier lives. As shown in the report, the structure of government policies and the quality of policy delivery — including the control of corruption — has an influence on happiness and how highly people rate the quality of their lives.

As a continent and a people, Africans may choose to attain happiness and joy inwardly, as we collaborate to make external conditions and metrics optimal. We can choose to spend time on building our emotional and mental wellbeing, on pro-social behaviours, on giving time out to support other, on loving one another and trusting, building compassion and giving the gift of kindness. And these are not just things ‘feel-good-to-do’ commitments, several researches analysed by the team at Harvard, Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia for the World Happiness Report shows a link between pro-social behaviour and happiness. A good number of correlational research has documented the emotional benefits of doing these, including the robust link between volunteering and greater life satisfaction, positive affect and reduced depression. With about a third of the Nigerian population at risk of depression — based on the nationwide survey conducted by NOIPolls and documented in the 2018 Nigeria Happiness and Depression Report produced by Joy, Inc., there is the need to equip one another with happiness and resilience skills, and learn to flourish — either because of, or in spite of adversity. Nigeria shows a significant 29.6% and 33.7% monetary and time-volunteerism donations respectively. This has the implication that, harnessing prosocial behavior offers the prospect of managing institutions and delivering services in ways that both save resources, and boosts happiness. And is as such a worthy thing to consider by policy makers.

Whatever happens, be joyful, choose happiness still.

Thanks to Ado Aminu, Anwuli Nkem and Damola Morenikeji for working on this review.

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