Getting a measure of happiness

Getting a measure of happiness

If global happiness surveys can be thought of as emotional thermometers, the mercury levels for Singapore would have been see-sawing over the last month.

Most dramatic was the Gallup poll on happiness, where Singapore registered the greatest leap in positive emotions worldwide, entering the top half of 143 countries after being deemed the least positive country last year.

But last month, Singapore emerged top in Asia and 30th worldwide in the United Nations' second World Happiness Report.

What can be made of these fluctuating numbers? Some have questioned the reliability of such studies, especially since they touch on "fluffy" ideas like happiness.

But while evaluating happiness is indeed an evolving science, this should not derail the conversation on well-being which has been picking up steam around the world and in Singapore. The larger picture to bear in mind is not rankings but how well-being data can improve policy-making by offering a better understanding of human behaviour and emotions.

As the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who contributed to the 153-page UN report, notes: "There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterise their well-being."

The question to ask, therefore, is not so much how well Singapore did in XYZ world ranking but how best to put a finger on the pulse of people's well-being.

One point to note is that this week's Gallup findings and last month's UN report measure different aspects of well-being.

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