The writer
The writer

In search of happiness:

The quote “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to shop”, attributed to American novelist and poet Gertrude Stein, is on a plaque prominently displayed in my home. Like many things that stay too long on walls, I often forget it is there.


I’ve been on a lifelong quest for happiness, which sometimes feels like a distant and elusive goal. I regularly evaluate my state of happiness and my progress towards my desired goal of perpetual happiness here on earth. I’ve had more ‘money vs. happiness’ conversations than I’ve been to church or the gym.  

Senegalese novelist Mariama Bâ elegantly sums up this challenge when in ‘So Long a Letter’, she writes “I have not given up wanting to refashion my life. Despite everything – disappointments and humiliation – hope still lives in me. It is from the dirty and nauseating humus that the green plant sprouts to life….

The word ‘happiness’ does indeed have a meaning, doesn’t it? I shall go in search of it”.

I’m gratified to learn that the world’s apex body – the United Nations – is also in search of the meaning of happiness, a search that culminates in the UN-backed World Happiness Report, released on March 20, International Day of Happiness.

As Honorary Consul of Finland in Ghana, I’m pleased that for the seventh consecutive year, Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world. As a proud Ghanaian, I hold my head in dismay that Ghana languishes at number 120, behind Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and even war-torn Ukraine.

It’s easy to shoot holes in the methodology of any ranking of this kind – and we should, I think, scrutinise carefully what exactly is being measured. When you look at the study though, the results begin to make sense.

It’s the word happiness, perhaps, that misleads us – what we have here is not so much about joy, excitement and exhilaration, but about feeling content, safe and secure in your daily life, with the freedom to live the kind of life you want. It’s also about social systems and structures, that enable individuals to do that. 


What makes someone happy? Can we get happier through study and effort? Harvard University’s ‘Managing Happiness Course’ promises to help answer these questions and to show how to use the answers to build a happier life.

 The course also introduces students to the modern science of human well-being and shows them how to practice it, not only for themselves but also to bring more happiness and love to the world by sharing the course’s ideas with others.

Using insights from everyday Finnish life, Visit Finland, Finland’s official tourism organisation has also developed a master class on happiness to teach foreigners how to ‘discover their inner Finn’ - to be as happy as Finns are. 


For Finns, happiness is not just about one individual’s emotional make-up – it’s about society’s make-up.  It’s about things such as access to education and health, equal opportunities, fair income distribution, social safety nets, participatory and transparent governance, and protection of marginal groups (including the poor, those living with disability, and the LGBTQIA+ community).

This is what Finns call the ‘infrastructure of happiness’. Seen this way, happiness is truly not entirely a touchy-feely “soft” issue at all, but about hard-core politics, conscious social and economic policy decisions that government makes. In this context, I now understand why Bhutan judges its prosperity not by gross domestic product (GDP), but by gross national happiness.

 I’m also not surprised that the UAE has a cabinet-level minister of happiness who oversees the UAE’s plans, programmes and policies to achieve a happier society.

For 80 years, Harvard’s Happiness Study, which tracks happiness, has found that true happiness comes from close relationships and social connections, both of which are crucial for our well-being as we age. Having supportive and nurturing relationships has been proven to be a buffer against life's stresses and protects overall health.

Many Ghanaians live their lives intrinsically connected to that of their typically large, extended families. Our national hobby is to talk about others and to meddle in their affairs (often, though, from a good place). It is common to see several generations of one or more families sharing the same home or compound.

We are warm and hospitable and draw energy from a wide variety of relationships we develop and nurture. Given these antecedents, one might be tempted to dismiss Ghana’s position in the rankings.

Careful analysis of Ghana’s happiness infrastructure, though, shows we’ve rightly earned our embarrassing place.

Creating a happier Ghanaian society would require a multi-pronged approach including a concerted effort to develop national attitudes that acknowledge and respect that we can’t all fit neatly into society’s pre-prescribed narrow boxes. Collectively, we must develop a culture that genuinely protects and empowers each Ghanaian to live their best authentic lives. 

Happiness is within our control. We must use that power to change the narrative and create a happier, better and more equitable Ghana. History may not be kind to us otherwise.


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