13 July 2006

Singapore Ranked Near Bottom Again

Gasp. Just when we were getting over the disappointment of being ranked 140th in the world for our level of press freedom, here's another study on another subject which ranks Singapore in 131st place, on a global scale.
Happiness is an island
Tiny Vanuatu is the happiest country in the world, Singapore the unhappiest in Asia, says new report

TODAY, Thursday • July 13, 2006

LONDON — Vanuatu, a tiny South Pacific Ocean archipelago with a population of around 200,000, is the happiest country on Earth, while Zimbabwe is the unhappiest, according to a study published yesterday measuring people's wellbeing and their impact on the environment.

Among the Asian nations Vietnam came highest at number 12 and Singapore was ranked lowest at 131, said the 178-country Happy Planet Index, compiled by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF).

Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama completed the top five in the world, it said. African countries along with Zimbabwe made up seven of the bottom 10.

The Group of Eight industrial powers meet in Russia this weekend but have not much to smile about, according to the index.

Italy came out best in 66th place, ahead of Germany (81), Japan (95), Britain (108), Canada (111), France (129), the United States (150) and Russia, in lowly 172nd place.

The index attempts to measure how well countries use their resources to deliver longer lives, greater physical well-being and satisfaction.

Mr Andrew Simms, NEF's policy director, said the index "addresses the relative success or failure of countries in giving their citizens a good life while respecting the environmental resource limits on which all our lives depend".

So what is Vanuatu's secret?

"Don't tell too many people, please," said Mr Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, the island republic's online newspaper. "People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little," he told The Guardian.

"This is not a consumer-driven society. Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people. It's a place where you don't worry too much."

"The only things we fear are cyclones or earthquakes." — Agencies

Marke Lowen's comment reminds of a little equation which my blogging friend Stephan Wissel once mentioned to me:

Happiness = Achievements / Expectations

If your expectations are close to zero, you're close to infinite happiness. :)

In Singapore, the government tries to encourage happiness by attempting to make us believe that our achievements are greater than they really are. The results of the Happy Planet Index study suggests that our government must either try harder, or give up.

Technorati: ; ; .


Anonymous said...

Sorry lah, but 0/0 is undefined.

Anonymous said...

Aiyah, S'pore is not that bad. We have expectations.

Anonymous said...

Therefore zero happiness. But at least not undefined.

Anonymous said...

0/0 is great! Undefined happiness...

Something quite akin to the Buddhists's happiness???

Frankly, I am also one of those who thinks we are chasing our own tails.

I would be leaving the country soon. I am also leaving behind many personal achievements, 6-figure salary, impressive job title, landed property etc

I realise I did not really want these things, after all. I want a simple life. It took me 40 years to admit it.

Not too late, I hope.

Mr Wang Says So said...

How interesting ... Tell us more abt yourself?

Anonymous said...

Scholarship, Oxford, elite civil service, high salary and the rest follows ...

Envy for others, nothing to me now.


Anonymous said...

Lee Hsien Loong saw it coming.It is for this reason that he calls for 4 million smiles.

Heavenly Sword said...

if your expectations are close to zero, you're close to infinite happiness. :)

Hi Mr Wang, now Heavenly Sword knows why he's so happy.... :]

sporescores said...

To be fair, countries like Japan (95), Britain (108), Canada (111), France (129) and the United States (150) didn't exactly do very well either.

Anonymous said...

Yep ... to be happy, always compare with those who didn't do too well :)

Kept us happy all this while.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Yup ... Reminds me of this Singaporean who had to compare Singapore to South African in order to get her daily dose of happiness.

Anonymous said...

It really pissed me off whenever I hear Singaporeans, in their self-praising manner, telling me how safe Singapore is, how clean the streets are, how peaceful everything is and they will rather die than leave Singapore because of Char Kuay Teow!

All these sounded so deluded and naive and definitely should not be heard from a citizen of a global city.

Trust the 140th media too much and you will forever be a babe in the woods.

sporescores said...

Well, if your expectation is to be number one, I guess you will never be happy... the irony of your post =)
Not sure how meaningful the results really are if a country like USA can be ranked 19 places below us.

Anonymous said...

If I have Bush for president, I won't be happy, for sure.

That's why we rank higher... at least PM doesn't go around starting wars. He just made unconstructive criticisms about other country's political systems and lack of total control of the opposition. He probably did not suggest solutions of fixing and buying too.

Anonymous said...

I think we need not aim for 100%. 66% is good enough.

So, we have alot to be happy about.

It's important to have flexible benchmarks. Then we don't have to account for anything and get all that stress for nothing.

We do want to die a world-class happy idiot.

sporescores said...

Sigh... something is wrong with oneself if one is always blaming the government as the main cause of one's unhappiness. Happiness is a very personal thing. I would think that Americans are too mature and independent minded to identify the US government as the reason they lead unhappy lives (assuming they are really so unhappy as suggested by the study). They'll probably see it as an insult if you were to suggest this. I hope we Singaporeans too are individually strong and mature enough to create our own happiness.

Anonymous said...

Aiyah, why everyone get so unhappy over a survey about happiness???

Any survey that did not rank Singapore in the top 10 is not constructive.

We can safely ignore them as they most probably distort the truth. See, how can Americans be unhappier than us???

How can some Vanut ... how you spell that? be so happy? I bet they don't even have a MRT in their country.

If Straits Times did not highlight this, it's probably not important for us to know and be unhappy about.

Singaporeans must know how to create the kind of happiness we want.

Remember, happinesss got no standards hor.

The Negative Man said...

Actually the report doesn't say that Singapore is an unhappy place. What it does say is that Singapore consumes a significant amount of resources to create well-being.

There are more details about the report at my blog.

simplesandra said...

What do you expect?

Mr Brown tried to look on the bright side of life (*cue whistling*) and we all know what happened. ;)

singaporean said...

Vanuatu ought to be quite well known from IIRC the HSBC credit card advertisement. Remember the one where an angmo couple were asked to drink some muddy fluid that had rinsed some tribesman mouth, or something like that.

City dwellers like us can never be too happy. When millions of people get packed together in a small island, we are bound to see some things that makes us unhappy.

We are forced to share space with many strata of people who have different concept of what social behaviour means. We are forced to see rich people live out their excesses in close proximity. We are forced to put up with the sights, the sounds and smells of the poor. Worse still, it is just too easy to see someone just like you: same car same house same life...you just cant delude yourself into thinking you are living a unique and meaningful life; you are nothing more than a replaceable cog in a large machine.

But most damning of all, is the pervasiveness of advertising, which has only one aim: make you feel unhappy. Buy our product and you will stop feeling inadequate.

BTW, 0/0 is not undefined. It is just a little hard to define for secondary school kids. Strictly speaking 0/0 is arbitrary, not infinity.

limit expectations->0 achievements/expectations can be finite, because your achievement is related to your expectations.

Low expectations=>low achievements=>unhappy

High expectations=>high achievements, but it is never high enough=>unhappy

Irony of life.

Pandemonium said...

the negative man:

Yeah, and rather amusingly, you've forgotten to hyperlink your profile/blog to the comment. Here you go!

sporescores said...

the negative man, thanks very much for clarifying. The full list and breakdown of the index can be viewed here:


John Riemann Soong said...

If the first post was on slashdot, I'd have given it a 5.

"Vietnam came highest at number 12"

And one ruled by a repressive oligarchy, at that.

Perhaps it's like Brave New World, too? Everyone's happy. Everyone's having soma, and having wild orgies. No need to bother over perplexing and jarring things like Othello...

So clearly defining happiness is also the issue. Because BNW would probably be #1, if it ever existed.

As for Singapore? The HDB environment and culture is what I miss most. Seems rather peculiar but if you start living in a small town some where far up north in the United States you will eventually know what I mean.

Elia Diodati said...

Dammit people, it's all about taking the limit, not literally dividing by zero!!

Mathematical literacy is going to hell in a wastebasket, next to the broken egos and unconstructive criticisms.

Here's another equation to practice on:

(Effort on project) * (Time left to deadline) = constant

And the classic

Beauty * Brains = constant

Anonymous said...

John, what's stopping you from coming home? Assuming you are part Singaporean, at least?

If you're studying, can join our world class NUS what?!


Anonymous said...

if we have no further expectations that the gahmen can improve, does that mean we are happy with it?

66.6% said it

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang

Interesting equation for happiness. However, there's another way of looking at it and it relates to the denominator term i.e. expectations.

I don't think it's humanly possible to possess zero expectations (I know Buddhists will disagree strongly on this). Achievement-oriented societies (such as Singapore) equate expectations with having ambitions and everyone MUST have ambitions or you're DEEMED by society as a good for nothing.

As for the numerator term, there's this British economist (I can't remember the name now)who stated that based on human behaviour, income (as a proxy for achievement) is not an absolute concept but a relative concept.

This explains the low level of unhappiness in supposedly wealthy countries. Thus, even if one's income were to quadruple, one readjusts to compare one's income to people in higher income brackets. The newly-arrived CEO doesn't compare himself with his minions but with other CEOs.

Thus, on one hand, our achievements always need to be revised upwards. On the other hand, our expectations are conditioned by society. A classic double squeeze situation.

In short, using this equation, humans just make things difficult for themselves. I would propose rewriting the equation as:

Happiness = Basic needs - Effort required

In other words, if you don't have to expend a lot of effort to meet your basic needs (which im my book include self-actualisation needs), you're a happy person.

It explains why absolute poverty is an unhappy state. It might also explain why some people are leaving Singapore.

Stephan H. Wissel said...

The original equation is from the handbook of psychology and is about self esteem:
self esteem = Observed performance / Expected performance.
Musing over this scientific definition and my Buddhist studies I came up with the equation Mr. Wang cited here.
Please look at the equation carefully: it is expectations NOT aspirations. This makes a fine difference, let me explain. I grew up in a western/Christian culture where the mandate is "work with your talents" (This is even mentioned in the Bible). After studying Buddhism for a few years I see NO conflict with the idea "let go of your expectations".
If you don't have expectations it doesn't mean that you don't give your best and try. At least for me giving my best or even stretching bejond my capabilities is simply how I am and what I need to do.
I didn't make my first million yet and I don't know if I ever will. It doesn't matter that much as long as I can feed the family and feel whole. Of course if you fall trap to increasing expectations (5C anyone) your happyness goes nowhere.
:-) stw

John Riemann Soong said...

But again we should look at Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The Epsilon Semi-Moron is perfectly happy, with very low expectations, and works with his talents.

Truly happy, or no?

7-8 said...

If you look at the study there is a fairly high penalty imposed on our impact on the environment. What they mean by happiness is "happiness without destroying the environment". We fared OK in the "happiness" department, but our environmental impact destroyed us in the end.

It goes without saying that the USA has a low score on this ranking as well.

KiWeTO said...

measuring environmental impact,

the question is - how much does Jurong Island contribute to that measure, and how much 'happiness' does Singapore derive from having Jurong Island and its petro-chemical crackers?

Having looked through the measures used in the HPI, Singapore would be an outlier no matter what, because we have a highly industrialized city without a countryside to balance out any ecological damage we do to the environment.

The more important data point would be the Life satisfaction level, at which SG is measured at 6.9 (No 59 according to their data).

However, even there, we lose out to Malaysia (7.4) and barely beat Indonesia (6.6).

Other notables include being more satisfied with life than
Hong Kong (6.6)
Taiwan (6.6)
(our nearest ideological/economic neighbours.)

Again, it really depends on where we want to go - do we want to be like Switzerland/Denmark (8.2), Ireland (7.6), or even Malaysia (7.4)?

And further intepreting the data, and in terms of scoring,

at 6.9 on the Life Satisfaction index, SG is ranked No.11. That means that there are 10 'ranks' to climb before we are as happy as the best in the world.

(for the quantitave-obsessed, the total number of different results are 45; for those who choose to be exacting and demand 2 decimal places, please check with the happiness ppl at http://www.happyplanetindex.org/index.htm
. I'm just intepreting data they gathered with my own biases).

Thus proving the quote, variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli (and nobody seems to be definite about it either!).

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics."
- Benjamin Disraeli

Believe whatever we want, but the fact that we felt that being ranked at the bottom of the HPI reflected our reality means that all is still not well.

And that is the problem we need to focus on, not the nitty gritty of the mechanics used in the survey.


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