On 27 March 2020, South Africa went into “lockdown”. These lockdown regulations were implemented to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and prepare the health-systems to cope with the increased burden of expected Covid cases. Though lockdowns minimise the spread of the virus, there is conclusive evidence of substantial happiness losses due to the lockdown.  The happiness decreased from an average of 6.32 before Covid to a low of 5.35 with the announcement of the lockdown regulations. A happiness loss of more than 15%

However, research by the Gross National Happiness team[1] (Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg), Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology), in collaboration with Afstereo (see www. gnh. today)), found that as the lockdown prolongs (currently 115 days under lockdown), people are adapting to the changed circumstances and happiness levels are recovering, notwithstanding the lockdown regulations.  See graph 1, which compares the time period before and after lockdown in 2020 to the same time period in 2019.

Graph 1: Happiness before and after lockdown in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019 

The researchers found that on the up side of the lockdown, staying-at-home, though previously negatively related to happiness, is now positively related to happiness, thus interestingly the staying-at-home order in itself increases happiness.  On the down side the alcohol ban (tobacco ban) and the fear of losing jobs decrease happiness.  Interesting neither the number of Covid cases nor the number of Covid deaths have any effect on happiness.  The net effect is a happiness loss, but there is a clear upward trend in happiness levels.

Why are people happy to stay at home?  Analysing the tweets, the researchers found the following:

  • Staying at home minimises the risk of contracting Covid, thus even though the number of Covid cases and Covid deaths, do not affect South Africans happiness, the fear of contracting Covid does play a role.
  • The home environment provides a peaceful and calmer atmosphere than the rush of the outside world.
  • People in suburbs seem to be more colloquial, with strangers greeting one another.
  • In general people have more time to spent with their household members and to catch-up with friends (Facebook, or via mobile phone).
  • People earning salaries incur major savings, as there is less opportunity to spend money.
  • People also save on commuting to and from workplaces and other destinations.
  • One of the unexpected benefits of the stay-at-home orders, is the lower levels of break ins and house theft, as houses are constantly occupied

On the other hand, the re-imposed alcohol ban of 12 July 2020, drove happiness levels down:

On 12 July, President Ramaphosa re-imposed the alcohol ban with immediate effect.  This led to an immediate decrease in the happiness levels. The happiness levels reached an all-time per hour low of 4.2 at 20:00 on Sunday evening.   See Graph 2.  The re-imposed ban has caused ongoing ramifications with outcries form the public, the industry and the fiscus itself, considering the loss in Sin, VAT and income taxes related to alcohol products (the same holds for the ban on tobacco products).

Graph 2:  Hourly happiness low on Sunday 12 July, with the announcement of the re-imposed alcohol ban


Further decreases in happiness are due to a fear of job losses and the general economic deterioration.   Analysing the tweets, the researchers found that a fear of what the future holds on an economic front is a major concern.  The GDP growth is predicted to contract at 7 percent and research shows that 3 million jobs have already been lost during the lockdown period.

Considering these facts, the reality is, South Africa will never be the same after Covid.

Prof Talita Greyling (talitag@uj.ac.za)

Wellbeing Economist, University of Johannesburg, Board of directors International Society of Quality of Life Studies, Co-editor Journal of Happiness Studies.

Dr Stephanié Rossouw (stephanie.rossouw@aut.ac.nz)

Wellbeing Economist, Auckland University of Technology, Vice-President Finance for International Society of Quality of Life Studies, Editor Journal of Happiness Studies. 

Technical Support by AFSTEREO.

[1] The Gross National Happiness’ team launched South Africa’s Happiness Index in April 2019 based on tweets extracted from the social media platform Twitter.  They measure happiness levels in South-Africa at real-time, see www. gnh.today

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