CAIRO: Hikes in gas and food prices, strikes and protests, detention of political activists, questionable laws and difficult thanaweya amma exams are some of the issues dominating headlines in Egypt.
But according to the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists based at the University of Michigan, Egyptians don’t let those issues keep them tossing and turning, with Egypt ranking 74 in a study of global well-being.
Denmark topped the list of 97 countries and Zimbabwe came in last place.
According to Asharq Alawsat newspaper, the study measured happiness with the level of people’s contentment with their living standards.
Saudi Arabia came in 26, the first of the five Arab countries on the list.
Jordan came at the 57th place, Morocco at 68 and Algeria at 72.
The news of Egypt ranking 74 came as a surprise to intellectuals as well as average Egyptian citizens alike.
“If you look at the rank, the majority of the countries which ranked in the top 10 have a high level of human development, said Nagla Rizk, economics professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
“To say Egyptians are happy, you must consider all components of development which include democracy, dignity, health care, education, self-respect, self-esteem and all aspects which together define ‘well-being,’ which is the universal yardstick of happiness, she added.
From a psychological perspective, Hany Henry, psychology professor at AUC, questioned the validity of the research. “Scientifically speaking, is the study culturally objective? And how do they define happiness?
“It is subjective as people are diverse and there are individual and group differences which affect our definition, he said.
In addition, Henry suggested that the respondents themselves could be inaccurate in their answers. “There could be a resilient respondent who doesn’t want to admit that they are unhappy. And there is an expectancy bias, which is [for example] a respondent who wants to give the best answer so they would say they are happy, he explained.
Henry also suggested that there may be a discrepancy between what the media is showing about Egyptians and what really exists. “The media tends to focus on what is missing, the negative picture is much bigger than the positive picture, he said.
As for the average Egyptian, Ahmed Osman, a 32-year-old housekeeper, was rather suspicious of these results. “From where did they get these results? how could the majority of Egyptians be happy when they can’t find a job or have a job that pays pennies each month?
On the other hand, there are some who expected such a ranking. “I’m not surprised that Egyptians would categorize themselves as happy with these living conditions. There is this divine power which makes Egyptians say elhamdulelah [thank God] despite everything they may be going through and that is the only thing that keeps them going, said Soraya Abdel-Wahab, a housewife.
The results of the study, which was published in the July issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, contradicted the notion that the richer the country, the happier the people are. The United States of America, the richest country, came in number 16 on the rank.
According to CNN.com, respondents were asked two questions to measure their happiness, these are: 1) Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, or not at all happy? and 2) All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?
“I strongly suspect there is a strong correlation between peace and happiness, Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and director of the study, said in a statement to the press. “There is also a correlation between democracy and peace. Democracies are less likely to fight each other than non-democracies, he added.
“Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives, said Inglehart.