Does farming make you happy?

Considering the serious business of farming, the question, ‘does farming make you happy?’ may seem silly and perhaps superfluous.

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However, happiness is fast gaining traction as the leading measure of wellbeing, replacing the current favourite, real gross domestic product per capita (GDP).

An article published recently by the World Economic Forum, written by Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California in the US, argues that happiness should replace GDP as a guide for policy and as the primary indication of societal wellbeing.

Happiness, he says, is a more comprehensive measure of wellbeing as it takes into account a range of concerns, while GDP is limited to narrow economic concerns.

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“Happiness is a measure with which people can personally identify. GDP is an abstraction that has little personal meaning for individuals,” he says.

He suggests that happiness is a truer, more reliable measure of wellbeing since the evaluation of happiness is made by the people whose wellbeing is being assessed, while for GDP, this judgement is made by outsiders.

According to the World Happiness Report 2015, South Africa is placed at the very low end of the scale, on par with India, Iran, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Ukraine. The US, Brazil, Australia, the UK, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Germany are amongst the happiest countries.

China, Mozambique, Algeria, Morocco and most of South East Asia are happier places than South Africa.

Even the Russians are happier. Several studies show that there is at least some correlation between general wellbeing and economic wellbeing.

But surveys also show that happiness cannot, as it were, be weighted in gold alone. In countries worldwide – rich or poor, democratic or autocratic – happiness is a product of the success achieved in earning a living, raising a family, being in good health and working in an interesting and secure job, according to Easterlin.

Those who are significantly less happy are typically the “unemployed, those not living with a partner, people in poor health, members of a minority, and the less-educated”.

I have met hundreds of farmers over the years, and what has stood out is the correlation between success and a positive outlook.

Optimistic, happy farmers are successful farmers and for them happiness and success are never measured in terms of material gain alone.

It is rather the product of an appreciation for the type and quality of life that farming offers.

As one of South Africa’s most celebrated female farmers, Jacky Goliath, says, doing something you are passionate about results in happiness: “It starts with yourself. I’m a happy farmer, and if I couldn’t farm here I would do development work in Africa and teach people to be sustainable and grow their own food.”

Denene hails from a sugar cane farm in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, but after school she relocated to the Cape Winelands to study, for many years, at the University of Stellenbosch. She worked as a journalist for Farmer’s Weekly since 2009 and in 2015 moved to Johannesburg as Deputy editor for the magazine. In 2016 she was appointed editor. Chances are the magazine won’t get rid of her soon, because the job allows her to write about two of her greatest passions – wine and politics. When she is not sitting behind her desk writing, riding around in bakkies with farmers, attending meetings in parliament or tasting new wines, you’ll most likely find her on the beach or in the kitchen trying out exotic recipes.