Saturday, 19 March 2016

Pursuing Happiness


We're so sad, we need people to tell us how happy we are. Or are not.

And then we refused to believe them. 

So here's the latest:
UN survey names S’pore the happiest country in the region
UN survey names S’pore the happiest country in the region
MARCH 16, 2016
SINGAPORE — Singaporeans may be fond of complaining about their lot in life, but that does not appear to have stopped the city-state from being ranked the happiest country in the Asia-Pacific by a new survey produced for the United Nations.
The survey, which polled about 3,000 people in each country and asked them to evaluate their life in 11 categories on a scale from 0 to 10, also ranked Singapore as the 22nd happiest country in the world. Singapore moved two notches up from the previous list.
Overall, Singapore scored 6.739 in the “happy index” of the World Happiness Report 2016, which was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.

Denmark, ranked the happiest country in the world, had a score of 7.526, followed by Switzerland with a score of 7.509. The other Asia-Pacific countries in the top 50 are Thailand (at No 33), Taiwan (35) and Malaysia (47). The unhappiest places on the list of 157 countries are Togo, Syria and Burundi.
According to the report, six key factors account for differences between the countries surveyed: Per capita Gross Domestic Product, level of social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption.
The report also ranks Singapore fourth in the global ranking of “equality of well-being”, a new measure that the editors are proposing to measure inequality. According to this ranking, a larger number would signify growing inequality.
In Singapore’s case, it got a score of 1.538, compared to 1.294 for Bhutan, which has the top ranking for equality. Meanwhile, South Sudan was last on the list at 3.044, making it the world’s most unequal society by this measure.
In the report’s introduction, the editors argued that “inequality of well-being provides a better measure of the distribution of welfare than is provided by income and wealth, which have thus far held centre stage when the levels and trends of inequality are being considered.”

Before I continue, here's a comment on FaceBook:
SG 22nd happiest people in the world for 2016, up from 24th in 2015's report.

BUT the actual points in 2015 was 6798. This year, it was 6739. We dropped 50 points, but moved up two slots. The world is getting unhappier.
Denmark, this year's #1 had scored 7526. Last year it scored 7527, and was ranked 3rd. It dropped 1 point, but moved up two slots.

We are not happier. The world is sadder.
I think the data suggests that the world is indeed getting sadder.

And commenters generally indicated disbelief that Singaporeans were happy. Quite sure there are conspiracy theories out there that suggests the government had "massage" the data to ensure a good report.

Those conspiracy theories fail because they did not even read the report to understand that this was a survey of approx 3000 residents in each country for their opinions. So hard for the government to massage the data here.

Anyway, Singapore is the happiest place in Asia. 22nd in the world, but highest ranked in happiness in Asia.

Note that Happiness is a personal assessment. Your life could be in ruins, but you could be happy. You may have everything, and not be happy.

So the rest of this post is not about whether YOU are happy, or whether Singaporeans ARE happy or SHOULD BE happy, but how Singaporeans might be considered better off or worse off in a more or less objective, if specific manner.

What do I mean?

Take the people of Flint, Michigan. They don't have clean water. (Google "Flint Michigan Water" for the background story). The water is undrinkable and unusable (not even for bathing or washing), and the kids there are getting poisoned by the water (if they drink it or bathe with it). And Flint is not the only US city with poisoned water. There is also St Joseph, Louisiana, Jackson, Mississippi, Sebring Ohio, and many others. And this is USA, one of the most advanced nation in the world. Ranked 13 in World Happiness. And they don't have drinkable water.

Compared to the people of Flint Michigan (and some other US cities and towns), SG is better off, at least on the issue of water supply. Doesn't mean we're happier though, and not saying we are. But personally, this makes me grateful to be in Singapore. Instead of Flint.

New Zealand, Canada and Australia are in the top 12 happiest places. I think I could be happy in those countries too. Maybe even happier than in Singapore. I don't disagree that people in those places are probably happier than Singaporeans.

I think I could also be happy in Japan. But they are ranked 53rd. I guess it's a lot different when you are there for a holiday and when you have to live and work there.

I know some friends who could be happy in Taiwan (35) or HK (75) because of the food. But the residents there scored lower in happiness and were ranked lower than SG.

How do you feel about Thailand (33)? Or Malaysia (47), South Korea (58), Mauritius (66), Philippines (82), or Vietnam (96)?

I think I could be happy in many of these places. If I have enough money to retire there. It's not the place. It is the money.

Money, it is said, cannot buy you happiness.

This is usually said by people without money (see Bhutan).

And it is true.

Money in and of itself cannot buy happiness. But it can open up opportunities.

Those countries that are above SG in happiness, are mostly (though not all) rich, developed countries.

And those below Singapore's ranking of happiness, many are poor countries.

Money cannot buy happiness, but there is some correlation. Not absolute and not perfect, but there is some. Studies have suggested that buying things does not make one happy. Buying "experiences" is what makes one happy. Like going on a holiday.

And while we are not a perfect society, we have solved the most basic problems of life.

But one problem we haven't solved is our insecurity. Emotional or even existential insecurity

It is perhaps part of our kiasu nature.

Perhaps we fear that if we let ourselves believe that we are happy, then we get contented, and complacent, and then we slide.

That is a valid fear.

Perhaps we fear that if we believe we are happy, that we should be content, then there is nothing more to hope for. We are happy. What else do we want? What else can we want?

Happiness is best pursued not caught.

To quote from Spock (ST:TOS)

"Having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."

Live long and Prosper. And be happy.

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