Sunday, 23 December 2012

Singaporeans: please get a hobby and be happy!

Singaporeans are the unhappiest people on earth. True? Maybe, maybe not. Singaporeans are amongst the wealthiest humans living on our planet. True? Absolutely.

Measured by per capita income, Panama, the happiest country on the planet, is the 90th wealthiest country in the world. Using the same measure of wealth, Singapore ranks at number five. 

Singaporeans lead 'First World' livesSingaporeans travel the world, waste food, contribute to global warming, worry about things like the welfare of animals and indulge in all sorts of other behavior only available to people with lots of money.

Few will argue humans should live in abject poverty to pursue happiness. However, it does not necessarily follow that greater prosperity equals greater happiness.

But the bottom line is Singaporeans are wealthy. So why are the super wealthy residents of this super-efficient city-state so unhappy with life? It doesn't make any sense. Or does it?

At this point, I will step into some murky waters. Many of my comments below are based on anecdotal evidence and personal observations during my (almost) fifteen years of life on the Little Red Dot. (Hey, it's my blog and I am entitled to opinions.)

Let's talk about hobbies.  

Wikipedia, the source of all modern knowledge, defines hobby as "a regular activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure, typically done during one's leisure time. Examples of hobbies include collecting, creative and artistic pursuits, making, tinkering, sports and adult education."

Leisure time – what's that? Does the concept exist in our super efficient 'kiasu' society? (We all know what 'kiasu' means, right?)

Singaporeans have little or no spare time. Or at least make little or no free time ('me time') from their otherwise busy lives. It's simply not possible to have any interests outside of work unless one has time.

Time requires the semblance of a 'work-life' balance. Such a balance requires Singaporeans to demonstrate strength of character. 

Character – huh? What does an individual's character have to do with 'work-life' balance? Well, as long as we chase the current equivalent of the 'Five C's' as the Holy Grail of existence there will be no balance in our lives. If our self-worth depends upon owning the latest electronic gadget, Louis Vitton handbag or other material possession then having to run faster and faster on the treadmill is inevitable. Splurging beyond one's means on big ticket items like cars and condominiums mean debt related stress permeating our entire life – and keeping us unhappy?

Make some time and get a hobby. Do something other than chase the dollar.

A hobby does not have to be expensive. It can be as simple as reading (borrow books from Singapore's great library system). Or spend some quiet moments in a green space every so often.

Surely, the pursuit of wealth is a legitimate life goal. Yet, becoming obsessive about materialism and allowing social pressures to dictate our wants is often a sure path to misery. Instead, it might be helpful to ask ourselves, 'How much money is required for me to be happy? Will the new phone [handbag, car, condo, etc.] bring me happiness?'

Reaching peace with our desires is one way to achieve happiness. Buddha figured that maxim out many centuries ago.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

1 comment:

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