SINGAPORE — A survey carried out by the National University of Singapore Business School indicates a decrease in the happiness of Singaporeans over the last ten years.
The survey was detailed in the book “Happiness and Wellbeing in Singapore — Beyond Economic Prosperity,” authored by Associate Professor Siok Kuan Tambyah, Honorary Fellow Tan Soo Jiuan, and PhD student Yuen Wei Lun.
According to the 2022 Quality of Life Survey, the average satisfaction score with life was 3.92, lower than the 4.29 recorded in the 2016 survey.
Meanwhile, regarding satisfaction with the overall quality of life in 2022 – measured on a scale of 1 to 6, where a higher score indicates greater satisfaction across 15 life domains – Singaporeans posted an average of 4.38, lower than the 4.81 in 2016 and 4.83 in 2011.
Despite this, those balancing family, traditions, societal, environmental concerns, and financial stability express higher satisfaction.
The survey, conducted every five years since 1996, emphasizes key factors influencing happiness.
Balanced values lead to highest satisfaction
According to the researchers, individuals who embraced a balanced approach, valuing family, sustainability, traditionalism, and materialism equally, were the most satisfied, making up 30% of respondents.
The second-highest satisfaction levels were reported by those with a pro-social orientation, focusing on family, community, and the environment, while avoiding materialism, constituting nearly one-fifth of respondents.
Next were individuals who valued family principles and traditions, such as religion and conservative beliefs, but gave less importance to sustainability. This group made up approximately one-third of the surveyed participants
In contrast, the least satisfied group consisted of individuals whose values emphasized materialism and placed the least importance to sustainability and traditionalism, making up 17% of respondents.
Decline in well-being across various life areas: Insights from survey
The survey also revealed a general decline in self-reported well-being across all 15 life domains measured, including relationships, health, standard of living, and household income.
Notably, households with monthly incomes below S$1,000 expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction, while those earning S$17,500 to S$19,999 reported the highest levels of happiness.
The Cantril Ladder, which reflects cognitive evaluations of life on a 10-point scale (with 10 being the best possible life), showed Singaporeans in 2022 reported a score of 5.99, indicating a significant decline in cognitive wellbeing compared to the 2016 expectations.
However, there seems to be optimism for the future, as the average score for 2027 is anticipated to rise to 6.45,
Researchers have observed a concerning trend in the wellbeing of Singaporeans, as detailed in their recent report. According to the data presented in Figure 3.1a, all three indices – Happiness, Enjoyment, and Achievement – initially showed positive values, indicating a majority of Singaporeans were happy, enjoying life, and feeling accomplished. However, from 2011 to 2022, these indices have demonstrated a consistent decline.
The report highlights a significant 41.4 percent drop in the Happiness Index over 11 years, plummeting from 69 percent in 2011 to just 27.6 percent in 2022. Similarly, the Enjoyment Index experienced a steady decrease from 75.7 percent in 2011 to 42.5 percent in 2022. The Achievement Index also showed a decline, dipping slightly from 65.8 percent in 2011 to 58.0 percent in 2016, before nearly halving to 29.6 percent in 2022.
In 2016, the Control and Purpose Indices were introduced, providing additional insights into Singaporeans’ wellbeing. Since their introduction, the Control Index has decreased by 25.9 percent, from 65 percent in 2016 to 39.1 percent in 2022. The Purpose Index mirrored this decline, dropping 27.8 percent from 71.4 percent in 2016 to 43.6 percent in 2022.
Overall, the past 11 years have seen a steady decrease in the wellbeing of Singaporeans, with all five indices showing worse outcomes in 2022 compared to six and eleven years prior. Notably, the report indicates a strong positive correlation (r > 0.606) among the five indices, suggesting that improvements in one aspect of wellbeing could potentially enhance other aspects. This interconnectedness emphasizes the potential for holistic approaches to enhance overall wellbeing among Singaporeans.
According to the study, satisfaction with democratic rights showed a dip from 2011 to 2022, impacting overall well-being. While respondents were most satisfied with the right to vote, the right to criticize the government garnered the lowest satisfaction.
Despite these challenges, researchers said Singaporeans still reported a sense of satisfaction with their lives.
The researchers emphasized the importance of strong familial relationships and pro-social behaviors in fostering happiness. Pro-social actions, such as volunteering, were linked to increased enjoyment, a sense of accomplishment, and purpose.
Professor Tambyah Siok Kuan also acknowledged the challenging context of the survey which was conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and economic uncertainties.
Despite the discouraging results, she highlighted Singapore’s attributes as a safe and stable society with strong family ties.
Additionally, Singapore continues to rank well in the World Happiness Report, holding the 25th position in 2023.
Declining aspiration of Singaporeans
Speaking at the launch of the Forward Singapore Festival at Gardens by the Bay last October, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mr Lawrence Wong observed that Singaporeans today “no longer talk so much about the five Cs”.
“There are genuine concerns about issues like housing and the cost of living, which the government is focusing on, and we are addressing them,” Mr Wong said.
The anticipated successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added, “But from our engagements, it is also clear that the Singapore Dream is more than just material success. It is also about fulfilment, meaning, and purpose in what we do.”
While Mr Wong suggests a move towards intangible values like fulfilment and purpose, a closer examination of the social and economic landscape suggests this shift may be less a voluntary evolution and more a reluctant acceptance, spurred by increasingly unattainable traditional goals.
The long-cherished “5Cs” of the 20th century — symbolizing material attainment through cash, cars, credit cards, condominiums, and country club memberships — seem to be drifting out of reach for many Singaporeans.
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