The office cleaner smiled as I walked into the pantry.
“Good morning,” she greeted me brightly.
“Good morning, auntie,” I replied with my usual greeting. And then I asked: “Auntie, are you happy?”
She looks nonplussed for a moment, before her sunshine smile returns. “Why? I not look happy, ah?” she said, before breaking into laughter.
I don’t know her name, and I gather she must be in her 60s. In a nation where success and happiness often appear contingent on the acquisition of the 5Cs – cash, credit card, condo, car, club membership – Madam Cleaner has to be an exception to the rule as I doubt her endeavours at keeping the office tidy would allow her to amass very much of just the first C.
Yet, she’d probably be the happiest person I’d see today.
Apart from our cleaner, The Pride spoke to 20 people yesterday and not surprisingly, 18 said they were happy. Not surprising, if you believe best-selling author and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, who wrote in National Geographic that our island-republic is one of the world’s happiest places.
Buettner reasoned that economic stability, few negative daily experiences, values which reward hard work, and security leading to low stress and worry on a daily basis make Singapore deserving of that accolade.
So do the 5Cs matter anymore?
“Only cash and cars,” said Bryan Joseph Pang, 29. “Cash is important, of course. You can buy better food and better whisky with cash,” added the civil aviation pilot. And he doesn’t even consider cars important. “They’re really just something nice to have,” he explained.
Bryan rated his happiness level at 8 on a scale of 0-10, and said that he is happy because he gets paid well for doing what he loves, which is flying.
Would he attribute any of his happiness to the fact he lives in Singapore?
“Yes,” said Bryan. “The stability and safety I enjoy in Singapore are second to none that I’ve experienced.”
Young business owner Lisa Lee, 23, rated her happiness at 9 and felt that Singapore provides a good environment for her well-being.
“I used to think negatively of Singapore when I was younger. I felt stunted in my artistic development. My family didn’t understand or see any purpose in being a singer, artist or creative person,” she said.
“Now that I’m older, I realise the benefits of living here. I’ve adapted to the benefits this country can bring me. Rather than me going against the system and looking elsewhere for a better way of life, I like the fact that people here are really hard working and have a good work ethic,” added Lisa, who said she’s chasing a dream of a luxurious and comfortable life in Singapore.
YuJin Lim, 38, attributed his happiness – he rated it at 8 – to being “happy at home and at work”.
“While Singapore is safe and modern, with a good transport system, the cost of living is really high,” he said. “But we can overcome that by working harder,” said the partnership and events director in the hospitality business, echoing Buettner’s sentiment that the country rewards industry. “I guess at my current age I see things in a better perspective. Rather than complain, make life better for yourself,” he added.
Not all of the remaining 15 happy people we spoke to wanted to blame Singapore for their happiness, though.
Musician John Monteiro, 44, who rated his happiness at a whopping 10, said: “Happiness is in the mind.”
Paul Wee, 51, rated his happiness at 7, because “there are so many things to be grateful for”.
“One big factor is that my choices are congruent with my beliefs,” the mortgage broker and internet marketer said.
Would he include geography – living in Singapore – as another factor?
“No,” he said firmly. “They’re fairly separate. My happiness is more internal than external. If we allow our happiness to be dictated by externalities, we would not be able to keep this happiness for very long.”
Michelle Lim, who rated her happiness at 8, did not see Singapore as a factor in her happiness. “I learnt to be happy from a young age, my learning from the attitude of my parents, who are also very happy. When there is something bothering me, I’ll pour it out over coffee with my buddies, and then I’m happy again,” explained the youthful-looking 40-year-old beautician.
The owner of an aesthetics business also suggested that part of her happiness could be because she spends a lot of time outside Singapore.
Ah, she must be very proud then that the Singapore passport is ranked the most powerful in the world?
“Not really. All the countries I go to still require a visa,” she said. Then sensing my slight disappointment, the self-described joker said: “Are you going to classify me as an unhappy Singaporean, then?”
I assured her I wouldn’t, while wondering if being happy was a natural Singaporean trait.
While nine out of 10 people were happy according to the poll, making it an excellent score for happiness in our country, what of the remaining two who aren’t quite so happy?
The first, whom we shall simply call Keith, cited several events that happened recently as the reason for his state of unhappiness. He rated his happiness level at 2. The alternative media may be slightly unhappy to note that neither he nor any of the 20 we spoke to cited breakdowns in the MRT or high COE prices as reasons to be unhappy.
The last unhappy person on our list, hairstylist Kelvin Lau, 42, rated his happiness at 4. He blames Singaporeans for his lack of happiness. Well, not really. He feels that he would be a lot happier if Singaporeans showed more kindness and graciousness.
“I would prefer an environment where people are more courteous, more considerate of the feelings of those around them,” he said. He added that on his part, he has always made sure that he never inconvenienced others, nor sought his own convenience at anyone else’s expense.
“I don’t ever want to be a nuisance to anyone,” he declared. “And I’d be a lot happier if people I lived with – in Singapore – were kinder and more gracious.”
There you have it – he doesn’t want your money, your lunch or your 5Cs. But he believes – as much as we do – that being kinder and more gracious would make Singapore a happier place.