What makes us happiest in life? I used to think fame and fortune were all one needed to be happy. A survey taken in America has shown that friends and family are all you need to be happy, but is that really the truth? This point was driven home by the shock I got in the summer of 1993 when I was a guest reporter from Nigeria at the Kansas City Star newspaper, Kansas City. A middle-aged American man had threatened to commit suicide outside his suburban home and someone had contacted the newspaper. “What’s the man’s problem, is he hungry?,” I asked my editor. I later learnt that the man had recently divorced, lost custody of his children to his wife and had to stay at home all by himself. He wanted to kill himself because he could not deal with being alone. I did not understand the man’s plight until much later.
Sociologists in America have identified three dimensions of loneliness: You are alone and you don’t have a choice not to be, you are lacking the attachments you had in the past and finally, you are facing changes in your life such as a new school, town, job, etc. Although Americans are economically better off than they were decades ago, a Newsweek investigation carried out in 2006 revealed that more people in America are lonely now more than ever before.”Between 1985 and 2004, the number of people who said there was no one with whom they discussed important issues tripled to 25 percent,” Newsweek asserted. Psychologists have also linked social isolation or loneliness to physical and mental ailments including sleep disorders, high blood pressure, increased risk of depression and suicide.
Bringing this matter home, Africans have not enjoyed anything close to the economic prosperity that America has had over the past four decades. Yet, loneliness is a strange word to Africans thanks to the strong family ties that still exist here. A case in point would be that of Mr. Idowu Jinadu, a divorced father of three living in Agege, Lagos, Nigeria. Unlike similarly divorced men in the US, he does not have to deal with loneliness since he retains custody of his children as men in this part of the world often do. Jinadu also takes care of three of his younger siblings who live with him. He clearly gets all the companionship he needs from his children and younger siblings.
As regards loneliness and isolation, the contrast between Africa and the US is primarily a result of cultural contrasts and differences in the attitude of governments. Nigeria like most developing countries in Africa does not have social welfare programs that that are designed to meet the individual needs of the citizens. In Africa, there is a heavy dependence on the family during trying times. In the US, that supportive role of the family is played more and more by welfare programs. Traditionally close family ties in Africa, a necessity for individual survival, is what keeps most people from being lonely.
America may have all the economic advantage but a large number of its citizens are wallowing away in the despair of loneliness while Africans have all Americans are craving for to be considered happy - family and friends, but are still considered the poorest in the world. When are you really happy? How does one measure happiness? The grass is not always greener on the other side.