COVID-19 Lockdown plays havoc with emotions and “Happiness Index” stays under pressure in South Africa

COVID-19 Lockdown plays havoc with emotions and our “Happiness Index” stays under pressure“, GLO Fellows Talita Greyling and Stephanié Rossouw find in a new study. The lockdown strategy shows immediate negative consequences for wellbeing in South Africa. The Gross National Happiness data set used (a real-time Happiness Index) is an ongoing project, the two researchers launched in April 2019 in South- Africa, New-Zealand and Australia.  See the detailed analysis below.

The authors

Talita Greyling: School of Economics, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and GLO; email:
Stephanié Rossouw: Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand,and GLO; email:

The analysis

South Africans are “angry” after their first weekend under lockdown. COVID-19 has been playing havoc with South African’s emotions over the last month.  We have made 180 degrees turn in our emotional state; from being joyful, anticipating good things to happen and showing trust, to being angry, anticipating the worst and showing disgust and fear.  Over the period, the most significant gainers, among the emotions, were anger, up with almost 10%, followed by disgust (+8%) (see figure 1, indicated by the black arrows). In contrast, the biggest losers were trust (-13%) and joy (-6%) (see figure 1 indicated by grey arrows) (Greyling & Rossouw 2020). 

These are the results of Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology) who in collaboration with Afstereo launched South Africa’s Happiness Index in April 2019 and recently expanded their study to include the analysis of the emotions of South Africans.  

Why are South Africans so angry?  From the analyses of the Tweets (see the team (Greyling & Rossouw, 2020) found the following:

  • Mad at police and military, because of the aggressive and violent manner the COVID – regulations are enforced.
  • Angry about people being greedy and making money out of COVID-19, when the country is suffering.
  • Angry at government playing politics in a time of fear, and uncertainty about the future.
  • Mad about Moody’s downgrade to junk status, “kicking the country when it is already down”.
  • Angry about being isolated, cut-off and no way to release stress or alleviate depression and anxiety.
  • Concerned about the increase in domestic violence, interesting not only men towards women, but among all members of the household.
  • Mad at not being able to buy alcohol (previously also cigarettes).
  • Being stuck at home and then also having to endure loadshedding
  • Lack of groceries after the rich has bought everything
  • God is mad, this is a sign of His wrath

Is there anything that South Africans are positive about at the moment? Well, it seems that in true South African spirit we cling to the silver lining in this storm that threatens to swallow us. “Family time” seems to be one of the few positives. In this never-ending rat race, being able to spend quality time with our loved ones seems to be our saving grace.  Other positives mentioned are “time for self-reflection” and “time to turn to God”.

If we turn to the Happiness Index itself, which measures the sentiment  levels of South Africans on a scale from zero  to 10 J, with 5 being neutral (neither happy or unhappy) (see, we note that the  index stays under pressure. After the significant lows on the days before-, on- and after the announcement of the lockdown (23 March 2020), there was a short lived increase in happiness levels, as people rushed to shops and their home towns/steads (migrating out of the cities), in anticipation of the lockdown.  However, the happiness levels soon returned to the “new lows” we have been experiencing since the announcement of the first COVID-19 patient in South Africa (see figure 2).

As reality sinks in and the health and livelihoods of South Africans’ come under threat, it becomes clear that “Twenty Plenty” has made a 180-degree turnaround to “Twenty Catastrophe”.  

Greyling T. & Rossouw S. 2020. Gross National Happiness Project. Afstereo (IT partner). University of Johannesburg (funding agency). Pretoria, South Africa.