What Is Happiness? Can Countries Like Uganda Really Be Happy?

By: Alexa Burciaga (Mrs. Stewart’s Macroeconomics Class)

Happiness. Take a moment to think about this word. What exactly is it? Some people may wonder what happiness means to them, but what even is the true definition of happiness? In this article, I will be discussing what happiness is and if countries like Uganda can be happy.

As the creators of the Merriam Webster Dictionary write, happiness is the “state of being happy” and they define being happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.” (Merriam-Webster). This is the common definition that most people think about when they hear the word “happy”.

However, in Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines happiness as “a complete and sufficient good,” and he also believes that happiness is the most desirable thing in the world (Aristotle). This implies that it is desired for itself, that it is not desired for the sake of anything else, that it satisfies all desire and has no evil mixed in with it, and that it is stable.

As the class read for homework, in Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill, happiness is defined as “pleasure and the absence of pain” (Mill).

So, which definition is correct? I, as do many of my peers, believe that there are as many definitions of happiness as there are people. Happiness is different for everyone: for one person, it could be through an act, such as taking a macroeconomics course in the summer; for another person, it could be through an event, such as going to awful family reunions; for a different person, it could be through an actual human being, such as confiding all their happiness into Oprah Winfrey; for another person, it could be through an object or food, such as ice cream. I am sure I could list multiple other situations in which happiness could differently be interpreted, but you get the point.

Happiness is obviously unique for every person. So, why, according to Wikipedia’s “Happy Planet Index” list, is Uganda is one of the unhappiest countries in the world (as of the year 2012)? Why and how could the researchers at the Gallup World Poll measure the amount of happiness a country has? Firstly, as many people may know, Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. And, out of the 157 countries surveyed, Uganda was ranked the 137th happiest country with only 6% of its population happy and thriving, while a greater percentage of 71% struggling and 23% suffering (Uganda Picks). The Gallup researchers found evidence of what many have long suspected: money does buy happiness–at least a certain kind of it. In a related report, these researchers studied the reasons why countries with high gross domestic products, or otherwise known as GDP, won out for well-being, and found a connection between life satisfaction and income. The happiest country in the world, Denmark, which obviously has the happiest people in the world ,has 82% of its population happy and thriving, only 17% struggling and  only 1% of its population is suffering and sad (Uganda Picks). And, as of 2013, Uganda is the 21st poorest country in the world, but is this a valid reason as to why Uganda is one of the saddest countries in the world? Can money and happiness really be associated with one’s life?

Scientists have proven that money can indeed buy happiness, as long as the beholder of the money appropriately buys something that they, or someone they care about, appreciate, or will appreciate greatly. However, money does not impact our overall happiness, but it can impact our mood. Yes, this may sound confusing, but please bear with me, Bear Market readers (punny). Some of you may be asking, is not happiness a mood? It can be, but your attitude, or overall happiness, is different from happy: the mood. To make this more clear, the definition for mood is “a temporary state of mind or feeling,” whereas your overall happiness is more like your attitude, which is defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior” (Merriam-Webster). So, as long as our attitude towards money remains gracious, money can only positively affect our lives.

People in Uganda obviously do not know too much about money, seeing as they do not have a lot of it; but, they are indeed aware of it; however, Ugandans take on a positive, happy attitude (if one could call it an attitude) towards money.  They are raised to believe in the statement that “the best things in life are free.” Their definition of happiness is not through material goods or money; happiness is making the best out of life, no matter what your situation is, make the best out of everything. Ugandans have known their whole lives nothing but poverty and (what we would consider) a miserable environment to live in. I interviewed one of my friends, Carrie, from outside of Ursuline to ask her about her experience of her mission trip to Uganda. She told me that going to Uganda changed her life. Carrie could finally let go of all of her thoughts and be fully invested in what the children and adults around her were doing. She was cautiously yet joyfully taking it all in: their living situations, their food, their dirty water, their lack of education, etc. Despite all of their misfortune, however, these people from Uganda were the happiest people she has ever met. Carrie states that “it was strange to [her] that people who have so little could be so invested and happy in everything they do; whether it was playing soccer in the dirt with an old soccer ball, or even just singing and dancing with their friends. These people are truly happy because of the way that they all view life, giving raw evidence to the statement “the best things in life are free.”

As you all should understand by now, happiness is a subjective thing. One cannot make a set definition of what happiness really is. Although Aristotle and Mill give great definitions for happiness and the Ugandans give a great example as to how the world should view happiness, these are only three ways to view happiness out of all the seemingly infinite number of people in the world that are alive and dead who view happiness differently. Therefore, judging by its culture, Uganda’s view of life and happiness is not fully compatible with the Aristotelian or the Utilitarian view of happiness, simply because everyone’s view of happiness is different. This being said, countries like Uganda, who are labeled as the saddest and unhappiest countries in the world, can indeed experience happiness in their everyday lives, no matter what their situation may be.

Works Cited:

Aristotle, and Joe Sachs. Nicomachean Ethics. Newbury, MA: Focus Pub./R. Pullins, 2002.

“Attitude.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.

“Happiness.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.

“Happy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.

“Happy Planet Index.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government. London: Everyman, 1993. Print.

“Mood.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.

Pasquali, Valentina. “Global Finance Magazine – The Poorest Countries in the World.” Recent GFM Updates RSS. Classeditori, 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.

“Statistics.” UNICEF. UNICEF, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 June 2014.

“Uganda.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.

“Uganda One of the Saddest Countries in the World- 94% Not Happy.” Uganda Picks RSS.

Uganda Picks, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 June 2014.



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