Having talked to my Singaporean employer this morning gave me fresh insights about this issue. And, I did more background research on the global poll.
The survey, conducted by Gallup, asked six simple questions to about 1,000 adults in each country each year between 2009 to 2011.
Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?
How about (enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger)?
In 2011, only 30% of Singaporeans replied yes to these questions.
So, the majority of Singaporeans are neither happy nor sad. They just live a passive coma-like existence in a neutral and blank state most of the times. It’s like something is switched off inside of people, and the large amount of citizens (70%) is an indicator that this state of mind is the preferable way of living life in Singapore.
Why so? Here, I will argue because the public institutions work in such a way that if you live a life abiding by the rules, a life staying away from trouble by not sticking out like a sore thumb, you can lead an extraordinarily comfortable life in Singapore because the government takes care of almost everything for you.
Everything is controlled here, with rules in what you should and shouldn’t do ubiquitously strewn all over the place. People find it generally easier to live life according to what everybody else is doing. It’s easier to just do it, no questions asked. You don’t have to like it or dislike it. It’s easier to abide by the rules, to not question anything, and to keep your emotions to yourself to “not make problems,” like what my boss said. And, who doesn’t want an easy life?
This mindset is prevalent in Singapore because, I think, the government here has been too good, too dependable to the point that it has made its citizens too comfortable. Singaporeans trust their government a lot. Everything right from the medical care to housing and schooling to public transport to even the gardens and parks are taken care of by the government. Not that being dependent on the government is a bad thing – it’s very fortunate that the Singaporean people have wise leaders – but the consequence of this over-reliance on the public institution might have bred a set of people who take things for granted and not appreciate what they already have. As a first-world country, Singaporeans have a generally good life -most people have food, shelter, clean water, entertainment, relatively clean air, a questionable amount of greenery- but they are still not happy? Why?
I suspect it’s because people are diverse creatures, and it just isn’t possible for the government to cater to everyone’s needs. Policies tend to be made for the public and people are expected to fit into them. In a controlled environment like Singapore, people are made comfortable enough, but remain unsatisfied because they feel powerless and helpless to reach out and control their own happiness. Everything is relied and blamed on the government.
So, maybe, the reason most Singaporeans are less engaged in work, life and society in general is because they lack the incentives to do anything.
Might the following be a common monologue most citizens here have?
Life is ok-lah, not the best. It’s bland and normal everyday. Why do more when doing more means more difficulties? If anything goes wrong, it’s not my fault, but it’s because the government is not doing enough. Ah, why do I bother with this topic? I can’t do anything anyway. This is the way life is and I’m just doing this to survive.
I don’t know. I’m just an outsider who had been here long enough to have insider friends and I, myself, might be becoming assimilated to the society here.
Comfort is an easy thing to get used to, but we must not forget the discomfort we felt before we became comfortable. I hope I won’t.
- Poll says, Singapore, least emotional country in the world. (surfingbutterfly.wordpress.com)
- Singaporeans react to ’emotionless’ tag (rappler.com)
- In an Emotional World, Singapore is Comfortably Numb (businessweek.com)
- Singapore is world’s least emotional country, poll finds (guardian.co.uk)
- Emotions not taking over? (todayonline.com)