Keynote Speaker: Jan De Deken


Investigative reporter | Author | Documentary filmmaker


Title of keynote: What makes people happy and unhappy in different cultures and life circumstances

Date: 31st of May 2019

Abstract: Foreign news journalist Jan De Deken wrote in-depth articles from more than thirty countries for the main quality news magazines in Belgium and The Netherlands. In his keynote speech De Deken deconstructs international happiness rankings and academic claims about the universality of happiness. Are Sub-Saharan Africans really ‘poor but happy’, as some claim? What’s the importance of work and money for wellbeing in different cultures? Is Singapore really the unhappiest country in the world? What is the East Asian Happiness Gap? And why do the most solid happiness research methods turn out to be useless in Japan?


Jan De Deken earned a master’s degree in International Relations at Ghent University and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Artevelde University College. He learnt Spanish during an Erasmus exchange in Valencia, Portuguese during a second exchange program in Lisbon, and old-fashioned journalistic fieldwork during an internship at the Surinamese newspaper De Ware Tijd.

He worked as a freelance correspondent in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and wrote in-depth articles from more than thirty countries, among which Rwanda, South Africa, China, the Philippines, Japan, Bulgaria, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Haiti and the United States. He reported on violence against the Rohingya minority in Burma, uncovered the commercial exploitation of rape victims in eastern Congo, and revealed concealed Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. His articles are being published in some of the main quality news media in Belgium and The Netherlands, such as Knack, Vrij Nederland and De Groene Amsterdammer.

In 2013 De Deken started a worldwide journey researching what makes people happy and unhappy in different cultures and life circumstances. His search kept expanding over the years and resulted in the narrative non-fiction book Melk, honing, kerosine (Milk, honey, kerosene – a journey to the world’s happiest and unhappiest places ), published by the Dutch publisher Querido on April 17th, 2018. The author steps into the daily reality of people worldwide, ranging from the earth’s wealthiest corners to war-torn countries, to investigate their blisses, their struggles and what makes life worth living and fighting for. Along the road he deconstructs international happiness rankings and academic claims about the universality of happiness, and analyses the marketization of our wellbeing.

In 2019 De Deken will be launching The Polar Project, a crossmedial and multimedial investigative news website on the impact of climate change on local communities worldwide.