Original Research

Happiness lost: Was the decision to implement lockdown the correct one?

Stephanié Rossouw, Talita Greyling, Tamanna Adhikari
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 24, No 1 | a3795 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v24i1.3795 | © 2021 Stephanié Rossouw, Talita Greyling, Tamanna Adhikari | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 August 2020 | Published: 28 April 2021

About the author(s)

Stephanié Rossouw, School of Economics, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
Talita Greyling, School of Economics, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tamanna Adhikari, School of Economics, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, School of Business Administration, Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco


Background: Amid the rapid global spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many governments enforced country-wide lockdowns, likely with severe well-being consequences. The actions by governments triggered a debate on whether the costs of a lockdown, economically and in well-being, surpass the benefits perceived from a lower infection rate.

Aim: To use the Gross National Happiness index (GNH), derived from Big Data, to investigate the determinants of happiness before and during the first few months of a lockdown in a country as an extreme case, South Africa (a country with low levels of well-being and stringent lockdown regulations). Next, to estimate (1) the probability of being happy during a pandemic year, before and after the implemented lockdown, relative to the mean happiness levels of the previous year, and (2) to utilise simulations to estimate the probability of being happy if there were no lockdown.

Setting: This study considers the effect of government-mandated lockdown on happiness in South Africa.

Methods: We use Big Data in the forms of Twitter and Google Trends to derive variables and ordinary least squares and ordered probit estimation methods.

Results: What contributes to happiness under lockdown, except for COVID-19 cases, are the factors linked to the implemented regulations themselves. If we compare scenarios pre- and post-lockdown, we report a happiness cost of 9%. The simulations indicate that assuming there were no lockdown in 2020, the relative well-being gain is 3%.

Conclusion: If policymakers want to increase happiness levels and the probability of achieving the same happiness levels as in 2019, they should consider factors related to the regulations that can increase happiness levels.


happiness; COVID-19; Big Data; regulations; South Africa


Total abstract views: 3781
Total article views: 3174


Crossref Citations

1. Estimation of Lockdowns’ Impact on Well-Being in Selected Countries: An Application of Novel Bayesian Methods and Google Search Queries Data
Krzysztof Drachal, Daniel González Cortés
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health  vol: 20  issue: 1  first page: 421  year: 2022  
doi: 10.3390/ijerph20010421