The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) released the World Happiness Report 2013 a few days ago at “an international workshop on September 8“. This is the second annual report. The first one was released last year.
I will jump straight into some of the findings.
According to the report, Singapore is ranked the 30th happiest country, among 156 countries (Chart 1).
Chart 1: World Happiness Report 2013
30th looks good, right? Let’s delve further into the statistics. The happiness ranking is actually made up of a few indicators. I will look at a few of them below.
Interestingly, the happiness ranking also includes a country’s GDP per capita. Among the 156 countries compared, Singapore is the second richest country (Chart 2).
For the next few comparison charts, I will compare the top 20 richest countries.
For the indicator of social support, Singapore actually ranks at a lower 48th out of the 156 countries, and at the third last among the 20 richest countries (Chart 3). Strong social support refers to “having someone to count on in times of trouble“.
When it comes to the indicator of freedom (to make life choices), Singapore actually ranks, also at a lower 36th and again, at the third last among the 20 richest countries (Chart 4).
Next, when we look at the indicator of generosity, Singapore actually ranks at a lowly 110th among all the countries, and 2nd last among the top 20 richest countries (Chart 5).
According to the report, “Generosity is also interesting, as it has a strong positive link with life evaluations and positive affect.”
So, let’s take a look at the indicator of positive affect, or positive emotions shown.
When it comes to showing positive emotions, Singaporeans actually ranks at a very low 144th and last among the rich countries (Chart 6). Singaporeans show little positive emotions.
Not surprising then that Singaporeans are not generous, right, since the positive affect is low?
Interestingly, when we look at the indicator of negative affect, or when it comes to showing negative emotions, Singaporeans ranks 8th or second best among the richest countries – Singaporeans show very little negative emotions (Chart 7).
Does this remind you of the Gallup poll which had ranked Singapore as the “least emotional country in the world”, where “Singaporeans are the least likely in the world to report experiencing emotions of any kind on a daily basis.” (Chart 8) Why have Singaporeans learnt to suppress our emotions?
Chart 8: Gallup
There is also another indicator – Happiness (yesterday) – or “happiness the day preceding the survey”, and Singapore again rank at a very low 126th, or the most unhappy of all the richest countries (Chart 9).
In fact, when compared to all the rich countries, Asian tigers, Southeast Asian countries, China and India, Singapore is still ranked the most unhappy country (Chart 10).
So, the World Happiness Report might have ranked Singapore as the 30th happiest country in the world on the overall, but when you drill down into the statistics, Singapore is actually one of the most unhappy countries in the world!
This isn’t the first report to show that Singaporeans are one of the most unhappy people in the world.
The Happy Planet Index 2012 had ranked Singapore at 90th, out of 151 countries (Chart 11).
Chart 11: The Happy Planet Index: 2012 Report
Singaporeans were also ranked the least happy of 148 countries, by Gallup last year (Chart 12).
Chart 12: Gallup
This World Happiness Report 2013 had included rankings of the GDP per capita, corruption, and healthy life expectancy – areas which Singapore traditionally does well in – which had thus helped to pull Singapore’s ranking up.
But the actual happiness, the actual emotions? Singaporeans ranks 144th at having positive emotions, and 126th at happiness.
Perhaps Singapore’s financial standing (and contributions) might have something to do with how the survey methodology might be favourable towards Singapore, something that the Singapore government has done right, I suppose. Because, when you talk about happiness, do you naturally correlate it with the country’s GDP per capita, corruption and life expectancy?
For example, for the indicator of corruption, Singapore actually comes out tops as the least corrupt (but whether this is so or whether there is “legal corruption“, where according to Kaufmann and Vicente in an article on the World Bank’s website, is “when the elite prefers to hide corruption from the population”, “to “confound” the population and undermine collective action”, is another matter).
The World Happiness Report had further stated that, “Indeed one could argue that corruption in particular is a measure of human development as it reduces people’s freedoms to live their lives in the way they want”
If that is the case, what we should really measure here shouldn’t be corruption, right? We should be measuring an individual’s freedom, or his/her sense of personal autonomy, shouldn’t we?
Singaporeans Feel That They Do Not Have Autonomy
Indeed, a research had asked if it was more important “to provide citizens with more money or with more autonomy for their subjective well-being (or happiness)”, and it was shown that “individualism was a consistently better predictor than wealth”. It was also shown that, “Wealth may influence well-being only via its effect on individualism.” Another research had also said that, “individuals may be so driven by extrinsic rewards or by relief from external pressures that they make decisions that do not reflect their true values, thus diminishing their overall sense of happiness.”
What this means is that personal autonomy, and our perceived independence to do what we want, is actually more important than money when it comes to happiness. And when people are given money to do what they do not want to, they will do so unwillingly, and be unhappy doing it. Up to a certain point, no matter how much money is given to people, they will no longer find joy doing what they are doing, if they do not think that they have the independence to decide for themselves what they want to do. Pretty much sums up what’s happening in Singapore, doesn’t it – a country so small it is so easy to control the actions of each and every individual?
So, why did the report use GDP per capita as a gauge of happiness? Money might have some influence towards happiness, but autonomy is more important at the end of the day.
Singaporeans Have Learnt To Be Self-Protective
The report had also said that showing positive emotions is “strongly connected to generosity, freedom, and social support”.
Again, are Singaporeans not being generous (we are ranked 110th) because we are not happy?
The question though is, why have Singaporeans learnt to become more self-centred? Why have we learnt to be so self-protective about our money, and about ourselves?
Perhaps the answers can be found below.
In Singapore, the government spends the least public spending among the developed countries (Chart 13).
Chart 13: 2013 Index of Economic Freedom
What this means is that because of rising costs, Singaporeans have to fork out more money to pay for essential goods by themselves.
So, for healthcare, you can see in Chart 14 that Singaporeans have to fork out increasingly more and more out of our own pockets (orange line), whereas the government’s spending hasn’t increased by as much (blue line).
In fact, Singaporeans have to fork out even more money out-of-pocket – the highest among the developed countries – to pay for their own healthcare (Chart 15), as compared to citizens in countries which are poorer than Singapore, but where their governments would still take better care of them.
And because more and more Singaporeans are not able to meet the minimum sum for their CPF (Chart 16),
Chart 16: CPF Trends Minimum Sum Scheme
We thus have the least adequate retirement funds among the developed countries (Chart 17) – we have the lowest index of 42.0, whereas countries like Canada, Australia and Switzerland are ranked higher than us, at 74.2, 73.5 and 71.3 respectively.
And we have the smallest retirement funds not only among the developed countries, but also among the developing countries (Chart 18).
Chart 18: Pensions at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2011
All in, why have Singaporeans learnt to become less generous? Why have Singaporeans learnt to become more self-centred? Why have we become more protective over our money and of ourselves? Is it because we do not know if we have enough to use? Is it because we live in much uncertainty?
The PAP’s Policies Have Made Singaporeans Self-Centred
The government keeps asking Singaporeans to be self-reliant. But have we taken self-reliant too far? Has the government created a landscape which is filled with so much uncertainty that Singaporeans do not dare to look out for another, for fear that we might not have enough for ourselves? Is there so much uncertainty that we do not dare to take risks or innovate?
We are forced to worry about how to make ends meet for ourselves, even though Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world.
Because of the government’s policies and unwillingness to take on more responsibility, Singaporeans have learnt to care only for ourselves, because we want to protect our own survival and we want to get ahead of others, just so that we can protect ourselves.
Singaporeans have learnt to become less generous because while prices continue to keep rising, our wages have remained stagnant or even dropped for the lowest income group. Meanwhile, the government continues to spend the least on the people, even though it can more than afford to do so. Singaporeans have thus learnt to become scavengers, where we hang on to every bit of money that we get, even if we are rich. We are afraid that our money will never be enough because the government refuses to channel what we contribute back to us and Singaporeans are force to rely on increasingly meagre savings.
Who wouldn’t become selfish? Who wouldn’t start being stingy? And thus as we learnt to look inwards and learnt to care only for ourselves, we have learnt not to care for others. When one day we are in need, we will worry about who will care for us. We will learn not to trust someone else, because we haven’t been there for them and know not if they will be there for us. Is it any surprise then that Singaporeans have become so unhappy? Our human nature have been taken away from us, bit by bit.
But why have the policies forced Singaporeans to become so inward-looking that we have forgotten about others? Why have the policies forced us to fear for our own lives while the politicians get by quite easily? Have we taken self-reliant too far? Or is “self-reliance” just a convenient catchphrase that the government uses so that they can keep more for themselves, and not give back to the people?
The PAP’s Policies Give Singaporeans Heart Attacks?
Perhaps the most damning aspect as to why Singaporeans’ unhappiness is so worrying is what it has already done to our health.
According to the report, it had said that whether a person shows positive emotions “is associated with lower rates of stroke and heart disease and susceptibility to viral infection”.
According to the Ministry of Health, the second and sixth causes of death in Singapore is heart disease and the fourth is stroke (Chart 19).
Does this worry you? Because Singaporeans do not feel like we have a say over our own lives, we have become more and more unhappy. And because of that, we have become more likely to die from heart attacks.
What’s worse, when compared to the top 20 richest countries, Singapore actually has the second highest mortality rate from cardiovascular dieases and diabetes (Chart 20).
Can I say that the PAP policies give Singaporeans heart attacks? I think I can, figuratively, literally, symbolically, however way you put it, to say that, the PAP policies gives us heart attacks.
Now, do you know why our boys are dying in camp and our men are dying while exercising? Is it due to exhaustion? Or is it due to cardiovascular diseases? What is the cause of this?
These happiness scores are not a fluke. They are real. The PAP’s policies of forcing the people to scavenge for themselves are causing the people to hollow out from inside. No use the government trying to create their own happiness index to hoodwink Singaporeans into thinking that we are actually happy, when we feel terribly disempowered.
And what have become of us? The research says that if people are “driven by extrinsic rewards” or “external pressures” that “do not reflect their true values”, this diminishes their “overall sense of happiness.” And indeed this has happened – because Singaporeans are forced to fight over one another to get ahead, we have become unhappy.
Can The PAP Still Earn Money If Singaporeans Are Happy?
Yet, according to the report, “adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction or positive affect grew up to earn significantly higher levels of income later in life.” Even if what the PAP is concerned about is to make lots of money, there is clear evidence that if people are happier, they will help to earn more money for the PAP.
Also, the report also said that, “happier individuals may be better able to evaluate the implications of decisions with short and long term trade-offs, resulting in decisions that reflect greater self control and appropriate risk-taking.” Does this also give the PAP a case to want to create policies that can allow Singaporeans to be happier, so that we would be more willing to take risks and innovate, and again, to help the PAP earn more money?
However, the report also said that, “Happiness and positive affect have been identified as determinants of economic behavior ranging from consumption and savings to time preferences and risk-taking… individuals with greater positive affect may be more able to exercise self-control or delay gratification”. What this could mean is that individuals might thus be less likely to consume, as they hold out for “long-term goals”.
What does this mean for a government which has its hands in the economy and the Singapore companies, and which needs the population here to keep consuming, so as to grow these companies’ profits? You cannot have the people too happy, can you? Then, will the people spend? Will you earn?
At the end of the day, it’s all about the money, isn’t it? Who cares if the people are happy, if they cannot help “them” make money? Who cares if the people can innovate, if the money doesn’t go back to the them? Who cares whether people are dying at higher rates from heart attacks, as long as they can keep growing their own profits? Just put a few defibrillators around and hope that the people will learn how to use it when the time comes.
Do Singaporeans Want “Slower Growth” Or “Shared Growth”?
Which is why there is talk of Singaporeans wanting “slower growth”. We want to be be able to achieve happiness. We want to do things that reflect can our “true values”.
But actually, it’s not slower growth that we want.
It’s to share in the growth.
The issue now is that whatever the PAP government is earning from us, they are not giving it back. And so, Singaporeans thus ask – why should I be helping you earn all this money when I am toiling away, but not getting any in return, and while you earn millions?
Very smart of the government to try to shift the issue away, to want us to think that we cannot have slower growth, isn’t it? But it isn’t slower growth that we are asking for, it’s to share in the growth. You want us to produce, we will do it. But share it with us. Otherwise, why should we bother?
But do you think that the government is ready to share?
It’s very simple. Do you want to be happy? Do you want to live in a society where we are more generous, and where we look out for one another?
Do you want to live in a society where you can find joy in doing something and know that you are able to enjoy what you’ve contributed?
Do you want a government that shares with you what you put in for the country and a government that protects you?
The choice is very simple, don’t you think?