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If Singapore were a person, based on the World Happiness Report, we would be...

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

So we're ranked 32nd in the world! But you're missing out on the little details.

How happy is Singapore compared to the rest of the world?

You might or might not know of it, but there is an annual Happiness survey that ranks all the various countries of the world each year. It's a huge undertaking, with one hundred and forty-nine countries each being represented by a sample size of about 3,000 people.

It's called the World Happiness Report and in 2020 we are ranked 32nd in the world!

Not bad! Not bad at all! Well done Singapore.

As expected, the top few countries are mostly dominated by Scandinavian countries - Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the like - seemingly paradisiacal countries with free education, great welfare and endless naturistic, beautiful green environments.

The only other Asian country to appear in the Top 50 list along with Singapore, is Taiwan, coming in at the 24th spot.

The Top 50 Happiest Countries.

Zoom in to No. 32 to see where we are.

As you can see from the coloured bars above, the Happiness Rankings are comprised of seven factors:

  1. Gross Domestic Products (GDP) per Capita

  2. Social Support

  3. Life Expectancy

  4. Freedom to make life's choices

  5. Generosity

  6. Level of Corruption (the lower the score, the longer the bar)

  7. Dystopia (the higher the score, the shorter the bar)

Wait what? What's Dystopia?

Dystopia, in the English sense, means an imagined country or society that has a great deal of suffering and injustice.

Unlike the first six variables in the list above, which have been directly measured via a survey, Dystopia is a statistically derived variable (i.e. unexplained variance).

The WHR report does explain how they calculate Dystopia in its FAQ section, but it can be a little bit of a statistical mumbo-jumbo to interpret if you're not a technical person. I'll try to explain this below.

Essentially, the report looks at the first six factors, and tries to determine how much these six factors contributes to a country's overall happiness (on a scale of 1-10). The last portion of the bar is the Dystopia factor, which you should interpret by comparing the length of this bar versus the combined length of the first six factors.

The longer the Dystopia bar in relation to the first six factors, the more the country is happier on top of where it sits on GDP, Life expectancy, Generosity etc.

On the contrary, the shorter the Dystopia bar, the more dystopic that country is, in that even though it does well on the first six factors, its happiness is mostly limited to those factors and not much else.

And Singapore has a really, really short Dystopic bar.

We should be happier as a country, but we aren't.

Especially in comparison to the fact that our combined performance on the first six factors is the best out of all the 149 countries!

Based on this report, what kind of person does Singapore appear to be?

I've actually downloaded the data to take a closer look at the rankings. Here's the individual rankings on each of the seven factors.

  1. GDP - Ranked 2nd.

  2. Social Support - Ranked 33rd.

  3. Life Expectancy - Ranked 1st.

  4. Freedom to make life's choices - Ranked 15th.

  5. Generosity - Rank 69th.

  6. Level of Corruption - Ranked 1st.

  7. Dystopia - Ranked 143rd.

Well for one, based on GDP, we're rich and highly productive. Surprisingly, we have the highest life expectancy in the world. I was surprised at that, thinking Japan would be first (they are ranked 3rd). That might be due to the availability bias from images in my mind of ancient-looking Okinawan women eating fish and dancing each day.

We also have the lowest perceived corruption in the world. No arguments with that. Thank you SG Gah-men. And our Social support is fairly good too.

What does let us down is our Generosity. We're not the kindest of societies. According to another index, the World Giving Index (2020), 48% of Singaporeans have donated money in the past year, 39% have helped a stranger, and only about 19% of Singaporeans have given their time to volunteer.

What really stands out is the Dystopian variable, where we are ranked 143rd in the world. That's seven steps from being in the last place.

For all that we have, be it in our richness, health, life, social support, relatively transparent government, and freedom to do the things we want to do, we Singaporeans are still not as happy as we should be.

Putting all these together, it paints a picture of Singaporeans as being the "Spoilt Rich Kids on the Block".

Behind their household sits a great deal of wealth, most likely never having to worry about going poor or hungry. They have access to plenty of affordable healthcare, have the freedom to pursue what they want to do with their lives, and expect their lives to be long and healthy.

Yet for whatever reason, they aren't very kind to each other. Each person seems engrossed in their own individual lives. Their time is reserved mostly for themselves, instead of being in service to others.

Sometimes, they even hide behind their anonymous digital avatars, to make fun of their own household members, or even poke fun at another person's mental health by making parodies and nonsensical music videos.

The worst part, despite all that these rich kids have, they still aren't as happy as they should be. Why is that? I'm not sure too, perhaps a social researcher could chime in on this.

Without accompanying data, I can only hypothesize, which simply becomes one individual's opinion to be taken at face value.

My guess is, besides us being an overall rich country, this wealth is unequally distributed and, compounded by the fact that we are a small country, inequality sits at eye-level, visible for all to see.

The person in the HDB looks out his window at another person in a condo, and wishes he had a swimming pool too. The person in the condo taking his dogs for a walk is envious of the guy in a landed house with the privacy of his own garden. While the guy in the landed house wishes he could also have a nice ferrari, just like the one in his neighbour's garage.

We're a country made of individuals who want more, more, more. I suspect many of us sacrifice our current happiness in the pursuit of more. To reference an overused but relevant term, we're all caught up in the rat race.

Maybe, just maybe, if the WHR included questions such as "How truly happy are you with your career?" or "How much do you prioritise your current Happiness, instead of money?" we could find out more.

For now, that's all I have to go on. Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul. Do let me know whether you agree or disagree in the comments. Why not take some time to think about what real happiness is while you're at it.

1 comentario

14 jul 2022

Yes, I agree. I am a happiness researcher. For me, “Happiness is a state of consciousness that evaluates the outcome of my projects over the course of a lifetime.” (Jorge Humberto Dias. 2020)

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