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Posts Tagged ‘happiness

My son running on the beach.

Ask any parent what they wish their children to be and they will eventually mention “happy”. It might take a while to get there because you have to strip away good grades, good job, or good person. But they will get to “being happy”.

The pursuit of happiness is nothing to be sniffed at. Depending on where you look, Singaporeans are a happy (top 25 in the world) or an unhappy (ranked 81) lot.

The most depressing report of our sad state was:

In 2011, Singaporeans topped a Gallup poll for being the unhappiest and most emotionless people in the world. In the Happy Planet Index 2012, Singapore placed a lowly 90th.

We are so happy about being unhappy that we might be the first to have coined the phrase “under happy”.

So how do we get happy?

I look to the wisdom offered by a movie I caught on Netflix, Hector and the Search for Happiness. It starred the irrepressible Simon Pegg as Hector. (At the moment, the movie is available in the Netflix US catalogue, but not the Netflix Singapore one.)

Hector went on a whirlwind journey spanning China, Africa, and the United States of America, and came up with laundry list of how to be happy.

The most counterintuitive tip was not to pursue happiness at all.

In an inspiring speech on happiness, a fictional researcher on happiness made the case that happiness was a byproduct of what we do.


Video source

The more we focus on our own personal happiness, the more it eludes us. We should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness of pursuit.

The thing to do then is to engage in activities or work that matter. That way you know that you have an impact or are otherwise making a difference.

As for me, I have long learnt not to fixate on happiness as a goal. Instead, I look for contentedness. I find it in the everyday and the unusual, the singular and the plural, the minor in the major. If it makes me smile, I am content, and that makes me happy.

About a week ago, the Straits Times reported that our National Development Minister, Khaw Boon Wan, said that Bhutan is not Shangri-La on Earth [archived copy].

There is also a small segment on this topic in the video clip below.


Video source

He was addressing the pursuit of happiness, and when Bhutan was cited as a benchmark, refuted that all was well in that mountainous kingdom.

But what perspective were his arguments made from? If you read the archived report, the view was largely through an economic lens.

I have also been to Bhutan as I was fortunate enough to do some voluntary service there (my reflections of that experience). I saw the same things but my lens was not coloured the same way.

We saw the same farmers and heard the same worries. But what farmer does not worry about their crops? What parent does not worry about their children?

But their larger concerns were different. They did not seem worried about losing their identity or values even as they selected ways to join the modern world. Concepts like money or ranking or comparisons did not factor highly in their conversations.

The lay folk were gentle, open and took pleasures in the simple things in life. They were happy. They are still happy.

They remain happy when their privileged few travel to places like Finland and Singapore to learn about other systems. They return to Bhutan, and while they are full of praise for the countries they visit, there is no envy.

They may not be satisfied with the way things are and that is good if they seek ways to improve. But that does not mean that they are not happy.


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