Since “Lockdown” Covid-19 Does Not Matter To The Happiness Of South Africans

Person Staying at home, reading and drinking coffee.

Investigating[1] the effect of COVID-19 cases on the happiness levels of South Africans, researchers found that before the implementation of the “lockdown” regulations, the number of COVID cases negatively affected happiness levels, that means that as the number of cases increased, the happiness levels decreased.  However, after the “lockdown” this effect became so small that it is negligible (the coefficient indicating the effect of COVID-19 cases on happiness is only 0,0000000369). 

Interestingly if the period before- and after the “lockdown” are considered, a U-shaped relationship between happiness and the number of COVID-cases is revealed (see the graph), with the happiness levels initially decreasing as the number of COVID cases increases (see the red arrow on the graph), up to a turning point, whereafter happiness levels seem to increase (see the blue arrow on the graph). This might be explained by the relatively low mortality rate experienced in South Africa, which eases peoples’ concerns about the severity of the disease.

Image: Relationship between happiness levels and the number of COVID cases.

[1] The full research paper will be submitted for publication in an academic journal.

These are the results of Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology) who in collaboration with Afstereo launched South Africa’s Happiness Index in April 2019 based on tweets extracted from the social media platform Twitter and recently expanded their study to include the analysis of the emotions of South Africans (see www.gnh.today).

The researchers found that the factors that do matter and decrease happiness after the “lockdown” are:  i) the lack of the ability to move freely, ii) concerns about a loss of income and livelihoods in the future and iii) concerns about the lack of alcohol and cigarettes.  Furthermore, where the value of sales is normally positively related to happiness, thus the more you buy the happier you are, the opposite after “lockdown” is true, with sales no longer mattering to happiness.  This is a concern: remember that sales drive an economy, if people no longer derive pleasure out of buying, it is a sign that we are moving into unexplored territory, where conventional economic theory no longer holds.  The fact that sales are no longer related to happiness might be due to the concern about future incomes, or maybe the fact that only essential goods can be bought from which less pleasure is derived, or maybe the experience itself, standing in endless cues to buy essential products.

In addition to the above mentioned analysis, the researchers measured the likelihood to regain the average happiness levels, namely 6.32 on a scale from 0 to 10, experienced in 2019.  This likelihood is only 21 percent, thus there is only a one out of five chance that people in South Africa will regain the happiness levels of 2019 (controlling for the factors introduced after “lockdown”). Even if the “lockdown” is lifted, the outlook does not improve much, as the economic concerns remain and the likelihood of increased crime, social-unrest and protests, might have a further negative effects on happiness levels.

Considering the above mentioned results and the knowledge that policy makers’ main goal is to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of their citizens, it is of utmost importance that policy makers take cognisance of the factors that influence the happiness levels (a subjective measure of wellbeing) of a nation.  These factors seem to be other than the number of COVID cases and rather to be the strict lockdown regulations that negatively affects happiness.

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