She suggested an analogy to the literature showing that people have a very hard time predicting the emotional consequences of being in unfamiliar, unfavorable situations.
For example, healthy people overwhelmingly say they'd be unhappy with their life if they lost a limb or were in a wheelchair, but people actually in those situations often report that they are happy. Here is a recent example regarding people with "locked in" syndrome. There is a term for this phenomenon; the disability paradox.
So maybe, when rich Westerners visit in Africa, they project their expectations of how happy they would be if they lived in the situations they see onto the local people. When these local people demonstrate that they are actually happy, it causes cognitive dissonance and the westerners attribute the paradox to some intrinsic otherness or lack of materialism, rather than recognizing that external circumstances do not determine happiness.
I am NOT saying poverty is a disability, I AM saying that the phenomenon of inaccurately predicting happiness in unfamiliar, adverse situations may apply more broadly than just to cases of physical disabilities.