The Pulse On…

The Hap­pi­ness In­dex

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Ja­son Lim

The phrase ‘Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness’ never re­ally came onto the radar of the de­vel­oped world un­til the 2011 UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly de­spite it be­ing coined in 1972. The fact that the en­tity that brought it to the fore­front was not an eco­nomic gi­ant or a global mir­a­cle of sorts made it even more pe­cu­liar. Bhutan, a rel­a­tively low-ly­ing na­tion in global vis­i­bil­ity, burst onto the scene be­cause the King de­creed GNH as a mea­sure of na­tional per­for­mance. In a world that ties nearly every­thing in eco­nomic terms, and judges the worth of in­di­vid­u­als by their out­put, such a mea­sure pegged at a na­tional level went vi­ral very quickly. Soon enough, the so­cial me­dia chat­ter was on how re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments could do bet­ter in help­ing peo­ple live hap­pier, more ful­fill­ing lives. Sin­ga­pore was no ex­cep­tion; GNH be­came din­ner chat­ter that our na­tion topped the re­gion and ranked 22nd glob­ally on the hap­pi­ness chart. How did our pres­sure-cooker so­ci­ety man­age to rank so highly up this in­dex? For starters, Sin­ga­pore al­ready ranks no­tably well on typ­i­cal mea­sures of per capita gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP), healthy life ex­pectancy, so­cial sup­port, and ab­sence of cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment or busi­ness, which are four of the six mea­sures used for com­put­ing this in­dex. Yet, some­thing seems to be amiss since a part of the so­cial chat­ter seems to joke that the scale was ac­tu­ally a mea­sure of un­hap­pi­ness in­stead. This un­der­scores the need for us all to re­flect on our met­ric for suc­cess. While it is a good at­tempt to quan­tify items of daily life into an in­dex of sorts, are we miss­ing the point when we re­turn to mea­sures that have eco­nomic mo­ti­va­tions or un­der­pin­nings? Even Bhutan’s PM said that “tak­ing care of our work­ers will up­lift the econ­omy”, which es­sen­tially re­turns the rhetoric to a dol­lars-and-cents frame­work of thought. What does this all mean for you and me? Well, at the in­di­vid­ual level, once we have crossed the mag­i­cal $75,000 mark in an­nual in­come out­lined by psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Kah­ne­man and econ­o­mist An­gus Deaton, the sub­se­quent in­crease in hap­pi­ness for ev­ery ad­di­tional dol­lar be­comes mar­ginal. This means that while a bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing can be achieved, it does not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into greater hap­pi­ness. To this end, does it now mean that to achieve global hap­pi­ness, which may po­ten­tially lead to less con­flict and even world peace, we should stip­u­late a min­i­mum wage that matches this fig­ure? As a col­lec­tive, this should open us up to per­haps an­other per­spec­tive of how life should be lived and mea­sured. While we can­not stop peo­ple from com­par­ing with one an­other (which in­ci­den­tally, is a source of un­hap­pi­ness), we need to drum up on mea­sures other than eco­nomic worth. Emo­tional well-be­ing, sense of con­nect­ed­ness to oth­ers, av­enues for so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to be re­alised, stress lev­els, amongst oth­ers, need to be quan­ti­fied and pro­cessed with heav­ier weigh­tage as com­pared to eco­nomic out­put. With suf­fi­cient trac­tion and buy-in at man­age­ment lev­els, there is a pos­si­bil­ity of cul­ti­vat­ing a whole new way of “life in abun­dance” and en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to live well and pur­pose­fully. In­stead of merely “clock­ing into life” and “clock­ing out of life”, we need to make new mean­ings and not stick to old sym­bols of suc­cess. Suc­cess has to con­stantly be rethought and reimag­ined… and it be­gins with us.

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