Ghana’s Happiness Culture

Ghanaians are often described as a “happy people” and just the other day in a group of Ghanaian young adults I was thinking to myself, somewhat grumpily: “what on earth are they laughing about?”

So it is roaring with laughter that I read my GhanaBlogging colleague  Graham‘s grumpy, but on-point, observation about the “enforced happiness” (Graham’s words) or “happiness culture” (mine) of Ghana. He takes us through everyday life cheer, party fun, church enjoyment and with an eye for detail he notes that Ghana’s most popular radio stations are called Happy FM and Joy FM! Graham continues his rant:

Even the music coming from the radio is happy! Hip-Life, High-Life, Happy, Happy, Happy. The music’s light and fluffy drum beats and the synthesised sounds have far too much sugar in them – give me vinegar any day!

Almost in a reply, Anti-Rhythm argues that the play in learning was taken away by the colonial influences on Ghanaian education.

In these our lands, many years ago, we used to learn by playing. Through song and dance and theatrics, we learnt what was relevant for our circumstances then.
When the colonialists came to inflict their cut of formal education on Africa, we left the fun behind.

Does that mean that Ghanaians were even more happy in ancient times?

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  1. I don’t know whether the pre-colonial explanation holds much water. Africans have generally passed on knowledge through oral history. My take is that you could look at this in a slightly different way: we exercise the choice to pursue happiness. This freedom is largely facilitated by growing up in a society that is very intimately connected. We inter-marry (both faiths and ethnicities). We like to express ourselves any way without regard for what the next person might think of our actions. We appreciate and honour our differences even when we don’t hold those beliefs (I vehemently hate everything the NPP stands for, but some of my closest friends belong to that party)- another is when we were younger, you’d find christians and muslims celebrating each others faiths. Growing up, I knew everyone on my street on first-name bases. Everyone was someone’s son, mom, dad, aunt, etc. There was always a strong sense of community. When you have these experiences as a foundation for life growing up, you’re without fear or paranoid about everything the way westerners live. This then allows you to hold and be expressive with the same vibrancy and freedom in the way we all did as toddlers. It’s nothing unique. The only difference between Ghanaians and most other cultures is that we didn’t let negative influences affect our social structure.
    Now, look at the other sider of the coin. I lived in the suburbs for years and none of my neighbours knew me, nor cared to. People keep to themselves. People allow negative misconceptions about “others” affect how they view those different from them… over time, this fosters and breeds anti-immigrant sentiments, xenophobia, racism.. seeing muslims as terrorists, etc and largely antipathy towards those who aren’t like you. When you fill your life with all those feelings, you find no room or choice for happiness (with others) to thrive in your culture. hth

  2. Thanks for you long and thoughtful comment. You have an interesting theory…before we people moved around so much, maybe when we all were farmers, we all knew each other, in the west too. Then we started going to school far away, move for a job, see the world. I really wonder if it is the same intimacy in Accra’s communities today?