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President Ramaphosa announced the return of level 3 lockdown regulations on 28 December 2020. The happiness index (Gross National Index) immediately showed the joy of Christmas dissipating and happiness decreasing. Happiness on 25 December was at a high of 6.9 (see red arrow on graph), being replaced by much lower levels of happiness of 5.4 on 28 December (see black arrow on graph).  The drop in happiness and Joy went hand in hand with increased Anger and Sadness (see graph).  Everybody understands that the lockdowns are needed to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and assist the health-systems to cope with increased demand, though it comes with severe happiness costs during, what is supposed to be, the festive season.

Interestingly, the GNH index showed a surge on New Year’s day, notwithstanding the alcohol ban, the ban on social gatherings and the strict curfews. However, on analysing the tweets the team discovered that much of the positive sentiment was due to “Best wishes for 2021”, and people being positive and hoping to see the end of Covid-19 and lockdowns.  If we consider the emotions on New Year’s day, we notice that in contradiction with the positive movement of the GNH, driven by “Best wishes”, the underlying emotions Joy and Sadness hardly changed from previous levels and rather remained at levels below (Joy) and above (Sadness) average. 

When analysing the tweets to understand the lack of increased Joy and lower levels of Sadness, we realised that many people have lost love ones during 2020 and on 1 January bereaved these losses.  Most of the tweets on 1 January reflected loss, had a sense of contemplation, showed a turn to religion, and highlighted the anger due to the alcohol and social gathering bans.   On the other hand, more positive tweets were related to the cricket (South Africa against Sri Lanka), a discussion about movies and television series and some revealed a good sense of humour, often at the cost of Bheki Cele.

GNH (Gross National Happiness) over the festive season

Source: Greyling et al. (www.gnh.today)

These are the results of an ongoing study done by the Gross National Happiness team (Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg), Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology), in collaboration with Afstereo)). They launched South Africa’s GNH (Happiness Index) in April 2019.  It is a real-time measure of the mood of a nation.  It uses Big Data (tweets extracted from Twitter) and Natural Language Processing to derive the sentiment of tweets, which is then used in an algorithm to calculate the happiness (evaluative mood) of a nation. The team recently expanded their study to also analyse the emotions of tweets, they differentiate between eight emotions. 

The study grabbed the attention of international research units, especially as it had the benefit of real-time analyses of the mood and emotions of nations.  The team currently collaborates with a number of research units across the world to also calculate the GNH and analyse the emotions of other countries, such as Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Luxembourg. Australia and New Zealand (see www.gnh.today for the real-time measure of happiness of eleven different countries).

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 and Applied Research in Quality of life.

Dr StephaniƩ 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.

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