: As I’m penning this after sleeping for less than 4 hours in 48 hours and I can’t help but wonder… In this madness, am I still happy?
Few weeks ago, a colleague from a company I contract with told me… “Bel, I think you look a lot happier now than when you were full-time with us.” I replied, “Is that so obvious?” She nodded her head without hesitation.
Well okay, I’m convinced. I’m happy. =)
What is happiness? More than a month ago, a much heated debate was first sparked off in parliament by MP Sylvia Lim on whether Singapore should include “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) as a national goal and KPI to the success of the country. There were many views upon it, some ended being really statistical. Apparently, in a later report, according to the UN Human Development Index 2011, Singapore is ranked 26th as “Happiest Country”!. But the definition for this is based on basic dimensions of human development in tangible matters such as health, education and income, not exactly on our emotional wellness.
So how can one measure GNH without being perpetually logical, scientific or formulaic about it? WHAT, to YOU, is HAPPINESS?
Happiness in my mind is an emotive reaction. It’s a vibe that makes you and the people around you smile. It’s appreciating the finer (as in smaller) things in life and not losing oneself in the pursuit for the dollar sign. But to some others, definition of happiness may widely differ. It could be buying a larger property, earning more money, shopping the house down… etc etc etc. I’m not saying that is wrong, I love $$$ too. But there is a distinct difference between happiness in life and momentary happy-ness in indulgence.
Happiness is NOT earned, happiness is a choice.
Last year, I gave up my full-time employment with attractive benefits to pursue an independent career that requires me to juggle multiple plates in order to fulfil my diverse interest and balance my financial commitments. To many of my peers and family, I’m considered out of my mind. But all I did was simply choosing a type of lifestyle that I believe I would be happier leading. I recognised I needed to make fundamental changes to my life when I started my day sulking and that depression lurks into the night. I knew it was never about the money. Time to do the things I enjoy, to have adequate “me-time”, to accompany my family for meals, to explore new pastures are important for me. I like being on the move, it puts me back into the pilot seat. Certainly this decision also brought some downsides such as income instability, lack of working incentives, overworked yet no off days, no CPFs, MCs nor bonuses. But I was willing to trade these for the traits I think make up the root to my “Gross National Happiness”.
In response to MP Sylvia Lim’s multiple references to Bhutan as an example on how GNH is used to measure a country’s level of happiness, Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that “Bhutan is not Shangri-La”. He said that in his last visit to Bhutan, beneath the smiles and laughter of children, he observed many unhappiness; men on the street are commonly worrying about their next meal, which is not untrue. Poverty has its problems, whether it is to an individual or to the society. Hence, this gives me further reason to believe the average Singaporean has no right to be unhappy. We are in a nation where food is in abundance (yes, despite rising costs), most of us get a roof over our heads, there are jobs if you are willing to work, basic education is not a luxury. The sheer difference lies in perception and choice.
We all choose to lead the type of lifestyle we want (and can afford). Birth rates are dropping due to many reasons but some of my friends don’t want children because they don’t wish to give up the kind of lifestyle they are enjoying now, including regular holidays, nice restaurants, staying in a nice apartment and driving a nice car. Some people are unhappy and keep wanting to earn more money because they are not satisfied with staying in a 3-room flat, they want to get a private apartment with swimming pool. Some people hate their jobs but unwilling to quit due to the incentives. Some like to invest on luxury bags and watches which cost $10,000 a piece. Fine, these are all choices. But we need to recognise these are our OWN choices, and sometimes it is us, ourselves, who lead to our own unhappiness.
True that a strong economy will provide the basic happiness we need such as a home, food, clothes. It may earn us occasional luxuries and allow our children to grow up in a conducive environment. But true happiness can only be achieved by cultivating the right values, identifying what we truly want out of life. The “know” that happiness is a right of every individual and we need to be more appreciative of what we have than to lament on what we don’t have.
GNH needs to start from the heart of every home, it cannot be measured by tangible means, since happiness is different to everyone. It can however, be accumulated by the smiles of every man on the street.
So, tell me — what makes YOU smile most?
Thank you to a dear friend of mine for creating this really cute flash! YOU make me smile. (^_^)
So how do you measure happiness? Let’s start with an interesting story.
Gross National Happiness began with an offhand remark from Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. Bhutan at that time was just coming out of poverty, and the king wanted to signal a commitment to building an economy that served Bhutan’s unique culture. The idea was taken up by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which designed a tool to measure the general wellbeing of the people.
In 2006, the International Institute of Management proposed a GNH survey that treated happiness as a measure of socioeconomic development. It tracked wellness in 7 areas: economic, environmental, physical, mental, workplace, social and political.
Critics have argued that since the index depends on subjective measures, governments can define GNH to suit their own interests.
And while this may not be the case in Bhutan, it is true that a high GNH doesn’t always equate to Shangri La. For instance, Bhutan’s National Statistics Bureau indicates a high acceptance of domestic violence – 70% of women believe it’s okay to be beaten for refusing sex or cooking a poor dinner. How would that work in Singapore, I wonder?
Besides, basic needs to be fulfilled first, and Bhutan is no stranger to struggling with economic issues. They even study Singapore to see how they as a small country can succeed amongst larger neighbours.
If the world’s happiest nation isn’t as happy as it seems, what hope do we have, a country of complainers (especially about money)? And even though we’re unhappy about money, 78% of us still think Singapore is the best place to live.
There also doesn’t seem to be an objective way of measuring which is “the world’s happiest nation”. According to the UN’s latest “Happiness Index” (Human Development Index 2011), Singapore ranks 26th out of 187 countries while Bhutan comes in at 141st.
So maybe the definition of happiness is as elusive as the thing itself. We can’t put a label on happiness simply because it means different things to different people. Some people are unhappy because “money no enough” – for others it may be “X not enough” (you probably know what X is for you).
Perhaps it boils down to this: it’s how you live, not where, that makes you happy or unhappy. Ultimately, there’s no index that can tell you how happy you are. Only you can.
- Gross National Happiness on Wikipedia
- Article on Gross National Happiness in The Standard
- The GNH Survey by the International Institute of Management
- On Bhutan, happiness and domestic violence in The Telegraph
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Khaw Boon Wan’s speech on happiness
- CNNGo: World’s happiest countries: 1 to 187.
- United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – 2011 Rankings