Vox pops: What makes Egyptians happy?

Ayat Al-Tawy, Wednesday 20 Mar 2013

As the world celebrates International Happiness Day on Wednesday, Ahram Online marks the occasion by asking Egyptians of all walks of life 'What makes you happy?'

Vox pops
(All photos by Mai Shaheen)

In June of last year, the United Nations General Assembly declared 20 March the 'International Day of Happiness.' According to the UN, the day is meant 'to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration in the lives of human beings around the world.'

Based on the findings of the first-ever World Happiness Report, launched by the UN almost one year ago, the 'happiest' countries in the world are Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and Canada. 

In the report's 'global happiness' ranking, culled from worldwide surveys conducted from 2005 to 2011, Egypt came in 101st out of the 156 countries polled.

The US came in 11th and the UK 18th, behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which were ranked 14th and 17th respectively.

Poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa were among the least happy in the world, according to the survey. These included Togo, Benin, the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that happier countries tended to be wealthier than their less-happy counterparts. However, certain social factors – such as personal freedoms and the relative lack of corruption – were also deemed relevant to a nation's happiness.

The report further suggested that women were happier than men in advanced countries, while in poorer countries the gender differential tended to be mixed. What's more, the report found that individual happiness levels were often the lowest among the middle aged.

Ahram Online marks the occasion of the first International Day of Happiness by meeting with average Egyptians from different walks of life and asking them 'What does happiness mean to you?' and 'How would you gauge your personal happiness?' 

Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, 54, a street flower vendor: 20 percent happy

flower vendor

'I feel happy when I find flowers to sell, when my kids are successful at school, when sales are high, when the municipality doesn't chase me away.'

'I suppose I'd be really happy if I owned a flower kiosk or stall by which I could make a decent living. It seems so unlikely. The government is complicating everything. They said flower kiosks were no longer allowed. Only those who have connections and money can run them. I'm impotent because I have neither."

Ahmed El-Masry, 30, a specialist at an insurance firm: 10 percent happy

Mohamed Al-Masry

'What first comes to my mind when I think of happiness is Hosni Mubarak. The country was undoubtedly a thousand times better [during his era]. The current state of instability in the country has a far-reaching impact on everything in our lives.'

'The country has no status now; there is no country, in fact. There are no respectful people any longer. I would be truly happy if conditions in the country – transportation, order and security – improved.'

Nadine Ashraf, 22, an applied arts student: 90 percent happy

Nadine Ashraf

'Chiclets [chewing gum] and my girlfriends make me happy, I would say. And cupcakes, music, shopping and the arts. That's what I enjoy. Travelling makes me quite happy as well.

'I think achieving success and stability – at both the academic and personal levels – would also make me happier.'

At this point, Nadine's friends chimed in, saying that she had been in a foul mood all day since she couldn't find her favourite brand of mineral water

Said Abdu Zein, 72, a retired employee at a print house: 0 percent happy

Said Abu Zein

'Nothing at all these days can make anyone feel happy. When one looks around, one finds nothing but depressing things. Look at the newspaper! They talk about the invasion of Iraq. This is nothing but games by the European countries. I don't know who precisely. But Israel and the US are at the crux of the whole thing.'

'We have no minds – all the Arab countries, in fact. Look at Libya. I've been there. People there were well-to-do. Look what's happened to them now!' 

'But I'm okay, thank God. I feel okay because I'm in good health. The country will improve. It can't stay like this forever.'

Noran Samir, 26, an administrative coordinator at the Higher Journalism Council: 80 percent happy

Noran Samir
(Photo: Bassem Ali)

'I feel happy when I see people around me happy, when I meet my duties towards others, and when I feel I am realising my ambitions.'

'I suppose I'll become completely happy when I fulfil all my ambitions and complete my masters. I will definitely feel happier when I see the country getting better and Egyptians smiling.'

Abdullah Hani, 23, the owner and manager of a newly-founded downtown cultural salon: 70 percent happy

Abdullah Hani

'This place [the Gz Corner culture club] is what makes me happy. I simply do what I love and what makes me genuinely happy. We organise free-of-charge awareness campaigns and workshops, throw outdoor concerts to entertain passers-by and paint graffiti.'

'I help people and they help me. People come here to spend a nice time, read a book, or have a drink at a fair price.'

'I'd only be too happy if I found a patron to fund the place, since the culture ministry pays no heed of us. I wish I could officially register the place as a cultural activity and provide everything completely free-of-charge.'

Gihan Mohamed, 39, a businesswoman currently studying mass communication: 100 percent and 0 percent happy

Gihan Mohamed

'It's all about self-satisfaction. This is what makes me perfectly happy. I feel happy when people are honest, fair and just in return for my honesty, rather than handling everything in an opportunistic fashion. But right now I'm happy neither with my performance with my kids nor their performance with me.' 

'At a political level, I'd say I'm 0 percent happy. Who would be happy under occupation, I wonder? We are now occupied [by the Muslim Brotherhood]. Persecution of women, men and the whole spectrum of society. I expect we will soon be issued visas to stay in the country.'

'If we live merely as Egyptians, without any categorisation, and if we applied the true rules of religion, everyone would be happy.'

Nevine Nazir, 40, a project manager at a telecommunications company: Happiness level 'subject to change'

Nevine Nazir

'Despite all the distressing conditions in the country, I still have peace inside. I'm still optimistic. I still know how to enjoy simple, little things.'

'Doing what I love; helping someone in the street, and not necessarily with money; going out for a stroll; getting myself a chocolate bar – these are a few of the things that really make me happy.'

'I would say I'd be happier if Egypt's problems were resolved; when these complications in society that restrict our personal freedom were no longer there.
Or I suppose I'd be perfectly happy if the [Muslim] Brotherhood just left.'

Osama Abdel-Hafiz, 47, a valet: Happiness level 'uncertain'

Osama Abdel-Hafiz

'Any day that passes peacefully makes me happy. Having my kids around keeps me happy as well. I feel happy when my family in Upper Egypt feels good and vice versa.'

'I’m 47, but I feel older; I've gone through a lot and put up with a lot of stress. Life has been cruel to me.'

'I thank God whether I'm happy or not. I just wish the country develops so that my children can live well. I'd be happier if Muslims united, and if Muslims and Christians worked as one hand.'

Azza Abu-Zikry, 50, a housewife: 80 percent happy

Azza Abu-Zikry

'I'm happy when I see happiness in my children's eyes, when I help people and do charity work. Good weather and safety [also make me happy], and when I pray to God and he answers my prayers; I just feel he is listening then.'

'I'll be happier when Egypt becomes the best country in the world; when suffering Egyptian women live better lives; when the unemployed find jobs; and when education and health services improve.'

Reem Mabrouk, 22, a university graduate: 70 percent happy

Reem Mabrouk

'Children, music, toys, food, helping people and shopping are sheer happiness for me.'

'I'm yet to figure out what I'll do in my life. Working in the field of child development at the UN would certainly be the ultimate future happiness.'

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