Updated 28 November 2016

Happiness in SA

A full 75% of South Africans describe themselves as content and happy. This is not the only surprise that came out of the 2008 Health of the Nation survey results.

A full 75% of South Africans describe themselves as content and happy. This is not the only surprise that came out of the 2008 Health of the Nation survey results.

Switch on the local TV news and you wouldn't think South Africans had much to cavort about: unemployment, poverty, drought, crime, outcomes-based education, Julius Malema and a governing party that changes every time we blink.

But one in every 10 South Africans are "happy all the time" and a further 65% range from content to bordering on jolly. Switch off the news, and bring on the bubbly, guys.

Business first: where did our stats come from? Just over 15 000 people filled in Health24’s Health of the Nation Survey, and the weighted results are representative of 2,5 million South Africans over the age of 20, educated to at least matric level, with a monthly income of over R4 500. If that sounds like you, then this survey is about you.

Which means, like your fellow South Africans (we’re known for bucking the worldwide trend in just about everything), you might be unreasonably happy: three out of every four of us describe ourselves as happy. Forty-five percent of us are happy “most of the time”, a further 21% are “content”, and 9% are happy all the time.

The thought of anyone being happy all the time is deeply scary.

There's a downside too
But not all was rosy: some 17% of respondents point to mood fluctuations, 3% are sad a lot of the time and a further 4% depressed.

Women are more likely than men to say their mood fluctuates (21% vs 15%) but men are more likely to be happy all the time (10% vs 8%) or depressed (4% vs 3%). The reasons for this could lurk in the results of our Sex Survey from earlier this year: men are emphatically more fixated on sex than women are, with more than 32 percent of them admitting that they fantasise about sex hourly or more, compared to only 7 percent of women. So perhaps it's these fantasies that are keeping the men happy?

Happiness seems to come with age. It's the pre-midlife crisis lot (40 – 44) who are most likely to be "happy all the time" (12%), and, sadly, the group least likely to be doing cartwheels from joy are youngsters (20 – 24).

Healthy and happy
People who take control of their health and wealth are also most likely to be happy all the time. No surprises there. But now it gets interesting. On average, 9% of people said they were very happy. And healthy habits seem to be part of their lives. Among the portion of those who say they are happy all the time (9%), the following healthy habits are found more frequently (expressed as a percentage of the total):

  • eating breakfast (12%)
  • regular therapeutic massage (13%),
  • flu vaccine every year (14%)
  • two litres of water a day (15%)
  • an up-to-date first aid kit at home (16%)
  • never use analgesics (16%)
  • daily exercise (17%)
  • given up drinking (17%)
  • engage in marathons (19%) “regularly”
  • never touch junk food (19%)

Right, so a slouch on the couch, litres of soda, a bit of a hangover, a few painkillers, a triple deluxe cheeseburger and watching the Comrades on TV just won't cut it. The blue bird of happiness is just not heading your way.

Crises and unhappiness
And now for a surprise: if your biggest worry is the crime rate, you're far more likely to be happy than if you're having marriage problems or a health crisis. Here are the stats:

  • respondents who say that politics or crime is their biggest cause of stress are more likely (16% and 21% respectively) than the average (9%) to be happy “all the time”.
  • those stressed out by relationship or family issues (4% and 6% respectively) are least likely to be happy all the time.
  • People who have ever had a cancer diagnosis are less likely than average to be happy all the time (6%).

So, in short, happiness appears to have little to do with an emigration visa. If you're into getting high on life, you're in the right place. And sorry, beer, slapchips and bunnychow are off the menu.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2008)

Read the full 2008 survey results right here.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Gut health »

Can't lose weight? Blame it on your gut

Our nutrition experts weigh in on why gut health is such an important factor in weight loss, on World Obesity Day.

Sleep better »

Yes, there is such a thing as too much sleep

A new study confirms that too little sleep can impair your brain, but interestingly, too much sleep is also a problem.