Dec 4, 2012

Singapore - S'poreans achieving more but are less happy: Survey

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SINGAPORE - Singaporeans feel a stronger sense of achievement today than six years ago, but they are not any happier.

They are also enjoying life less, according to a survey by two dons from the National University of Singapore Business School.

The findings suggest that money does not necessarily buy happiness, with economic growth - measured by gross domestic product (GDP) - and happiness seeming to have moved in opposite directions since 2006.

"A reasonable level of GDP is necessary but it's not a sufficient condition for good standard of living," said Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah, who co-wrote a book on the survey findings with Associate Professor Tan Soo Jiuan.

Last year, they engaged a research firm to survey 1,500 Singaporeans on areas ranging from perceptions of their well-being to the values they find important and political rights.

The results showed Singaporeans' sense of achievement last year rose by 13.7 percentage points from the figure in 2006, when the professors did a similar study.

But happiness levels dipped by 3.5 percentage points while enjoyment levels slipped 1.3 points.

Dr Tambyah said this could be a sign of a phenomenon - seen in other developed countries as well - where happiness levels tend to stagnate after a point, even as national wealth continues to rise.

Said Prof Tan: "Very often, you are so busy paying off your mortgage; you can have a very nice home, but how much time do you spend in it to enjoy the landscaping?"

The widening income gap could be another factor as some citizens may feel overlooked, said Dr Tambyah.

Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 were the most unhappy. That is when people are stressed by their careers and the struggle to start a family without being able to afford a car or a house, said the professors.

And what makes Singaporeans happy? The survey holds some answers: ties with family and friends.

Prof Tan highlighted a paradox where respondents were more satisfied with life in general but less satisfied with life in Singapore than they were in 2001.

Generally, people were most satisfied with their relationships with their children and parents.

But in a separate question on life in Singapore, people were least satisfied about cost-of-living issues such as the affordability of cars, property and health care.

A "bright spot" is that "family relationships and social networks are holding up very well", said Dr Tambyah. "People feel it's so important to them."

The findings indicate a need for Singapore's economic goals to be balanced with social and communal goals, said the dons.

Dr Tambyah is glad questions on happiness, values and the kind of society Singaporeans want have been raised in the ongoing national conversation.

She said: "That's what contributes to a better society and nation, apart from GDP."

Andrea Ong

The Straits Times

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