Techniques of happiness: Moving toward and away from the good life in a rural Ethiopian community

Dena Freeman


This article seeks to tease apart some of the different factors and cultural practices that lead toward and away from happiness in particular social and cultural contexts. It considers happiness as experienced in the community of Masho in the Gamo Highlands of southwest Ethiopia at two different points in time. It starts by exploring the traditional Gamo concept of happiness and the way that happiness was experienced in the mid-1990s mainly as peaceful sociality and nonreflexive present-time consciousness. It then charts the move toward a more market-based socio-economic reality that has taken place over the last twenty years and shows how the concomitant decrease in peaceful sociality and increase in inequality has led to a decrease in happiness of most people. However, it then considers the way that conversion to Pentecostal Christianity has created new avenues of happiness by bringing about a radical transformation of the self and by deeply reconfiguring emotional lives. In charting the way that happiness shifts from being imbued in the social fabric to being more about deep interior spaces, this article argues that happiness is configured differently in different social and cultural contexts and that different experiences of happiness are fundamentally linked to different experiences of the self.


happiness, self, Pentecostalism, market transformation, Ethiopia, Gamo

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.009