If you're happy, do you know it?

Are Singaporeans happy or not?

The New Paper conducted a happiness survey at the end of last year after much debate over whether Singapore should adopt a happiness index like Bhutan.

Reporters interviewed individuals and asked them to rate how happy they are (on a scale of 1 to 10) and what makes them happy.

There was also a survey on the TNP website which asked, "Are you happy?"

With the first method, out of the 51 people whose faces were published in TNP from Nov 7 to Dec 31, 92 per cent (47) rated themselves happy (6 and above).

The average rating was 7.6.

Reasons for their happiness ranged from eating ice cream with a loved one to enjoying being independent and single.

Relationships

Given the diversity of responses, it was interesting to note that relationship was the one factor most commonly cited.

There were 31 mentions of family, friends or a significant other by the 51 individuals, who sometimes mentioned other factors such as job satisfaction.

Dr Sharon Siddique, a sociologist with 45 years of experience, told TNP: "It's not surprising that human relationships play a role in people's happiness.

"And it's not just connected to the term 'happy'; it's much more than that. Relations are important to survival, gratification, to living."

But she is doubtful about the usefulness of any kind of happiness index.

She said: "Everyone interprets the term happiness differently; it is very subjective."

Dr William Wan of the Singapore Kindness Movement, who advocates a happiness index to supplement economic indicators, agreed that it is hard to measure happiness as it can be as "elusive as the smile of the Cheshire cat".

Nonetheless, he said, this does not mean that it is impossible to measure happiness - as long as one accepts that there is more than one way of doing so.

He cited three happiness indices that have different criteria and, therefore, different results.

Besides Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index, there is the United Nations Human Development Index (UNHDI) and the Satisfaction with Life Index (SLI), developed by social psychologist Adrian White.

Dr Wan said Singapore was ranked 53rd in the SLI in 2006 and 26th in the UNHDIlast year.

He added: "Happiness is a state of mind and is more a by-product than a fixed state."

Mr Morgan Chan, 47, a branch manager of an electronic goods retailer who also runs a tuition centre, rated himself 10 out of 10 on TNP's happiness scale and shares a similar view on happiness as an attitude.

"I have learnt that the best way to live my life is not to let my happiness be dictated by external factors, not even family or career, because these can change," said Mr Chan.

Instead, he finds joy even in doing tedious chores like balancing the accounts for his business.

Although he thinks there is no perfect way to measure happiness, he feels it is necessary to have an index to prompt people to think about what happiness means.

The TNP online survey had very different results from the face-to-face survey.

Those who answered "yes" to the question "Are you happy?" were in the minority, representing only 26 per cent (291) of the 1,135 votes cast between Nov 23 and Jan 13.

There were 687 who said "no" (61 per cent), while the remaining 157 were "indifferent" (14 per cent).

Dr Wan said the face-to-face interviewees were probably self-conscious.

"Would they say that they are unhappy in their relationships and jobs? What would their loved ones and bosses think?" he said.

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