Thursday, July 13, 2006

Singaporeans the most unhappy lot in Asia?

Interesting article about the Happy Planet Index :

July 13, 2006
Singaporeans the least happy people in Asia

LONDON - OF ALL the countries in the Asean region, Vietnam has the most to smile about and Singapore the least, according to a list of the happiest countries on the planet.
A new study published yesterday ranked the small South-east Asian country as 12th on a list of 178 nations, beating big-economy behemoths such as Britain and the United States in a survey that measured people's well-being and their impact on the environment.

Singapore, on the other hand, fared the worst of all the Asean and Asian nations ranked, coming in at 131st.

Compiled by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Happy Planet Index painted a different order of world wealth.

Abandoning what it termed 'crude ratings' of countries according to economic indicators like gross domestic product, the NEF intended the new index to strip life back to the basics - measuring life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental impact.

Island nations did well in the rankings, with the tiny South Pacific nation of Vanuatu topping the list. 'People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little,' said Mr Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, the republic's online newspaper.

Industrial countries, perhaps unsurprisingly, fared badly on the index - Britain came in at 108th while the US ranked 150th. Most of the bottom 10 countries were African nations, with Zimbabwe coming in last.

'The order of nations that emerges may seem counter-intuitive. But this is because policymakers have been led astray by abstract mathematical models of the economy that bear little relation to the real world,' said NEF's policy director Andrew Simms. -- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

I went over the the Happy Planet Website to find out how they calculated the index and what I got was :

How it is calculated
The HPI incorporates three separate indicators: ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life expectancy. The statistical calculations that underlie the HPI are quite complex. However conceptually, it is straight forward and intuitive:

HPI = Life satisfaction x Life expectancy


Ecological Footprint

The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens

The equation's really quite esoteric and being the philistine that I am, I don't quite get the intricasies. However, what struck me was the following :

Life Satisfaction
I understand that their methodology involved questionaires. Don't know the specifics, but if we were to just take a look around, you'll find the average Singaporean is concerned with :

- making good money, so that they can afford the "luxuries" of life (eg car, condo,..)
- putting their children through the best schools
- making sure their children become the best, thus the enrichment classes, tuition classes, other classes that will help them develop
- hopefully, with luck, the average Singaporean would have accumulated enough assets (or have good children / children in law, if I remember what Mr Mah talked about some time ago, about having good health insurance in the form of filial children) to have a good, comfortable retirement.

Unfortunately, what happens most of the time is this vicious circle :

- Work ==> Make Money (but not enough time for the family)
- Children go to best schools ==> But no time to for childhood ==> Love for learning is killed. Because parents are busy working, they concentrate on "quality time" (a common euphemism used when parent are not spending enough time with their kids) ==> Parents justify this by making sure that their children have the best, financially.
- When their children grow up, and the parents have reached retirement, they try to catch up on lost time... but lost time is just that... lost...

What results in that we have a very unhappy population... I've often observed that Singaporeans tend to be very unhappy... just go on a holiday and invariably, you'll find it's the Singaporeans who are complaining.


Ecological Footprint
The Happy Planet folks mention this is computed based on the rate of consumption versus the total resources.

I wonder if this factor also significantly affected the numbers, given that we are a nation without any natural resources except for her people (we even have to take to importing THAT given the slower population growth)


I think that numbers or how we rank in indices are really not that important... If anything, I think this a good platform to think about what makes us happy... what do we want in our lives? What's REALLY important to us at the end of the day?


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