Money, indeed, does not buy happiness

SINGAPORE - I agree with Mr Ng Chee Kheon ("Not surprising that most want slower pace of life"; last Wednesday) that in our almost single-minded quest for economic growth, we have become victims of our own success.

Surveys have found that Singapore, despite having one of the highest per capita gross domestic products in the world, is home to the world's least positive-minded population.

In contrast, a 2012 study showed that three times as many people in war-torn Afghanistan said they were happy than unhappy, while the joie de vivre of Latin American countries such as Panama, though beset by many economic problems, is legendary.

These statistics make for sobering reading. They show that economic factors play only a relatively small part in people's well-being and happiness.

In his book, Stumbling On Happiness, Harvard University professor of psychology Daniel Gilbert explains that wealth has a "declining marginal utility", which means that "wealth increases human happiness when it lifts people out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter".

What are some other factors that play a prominent role in people's sense of well-being?

Commuting ranks among people's least-enjoyed activities.

Our rush-hour MRT rides and traffic jams are anything but pleasant.

Our obsession with so-called "retail therapy" is anything but therapeutic: Confronted with many choices, shopping can actually cause fatigue and buyers' remorse.

Most importantly, people adapt to material goods.

The initial excitement over a new Birkin bag or BMW may not last longer than the credit-card debt taken out in their purchase.

However, indulging in experiences, such as a vacation or a meal with friends and family, tends to result in memories that grow richer with time, in that they are unique to each of us; something that a designer bag or car, no matter how exclusive, can never be.

Married couples are twice as likely to say they are happy than singles.

Volunteering and acts of kindness result in a happiness boost.

Being spiritual, such as having a religion or doing yoga and meditation, helps in relieving stress.

Our GDP may be the envy of the world, but it has come at a high price, with Singaporeans preoccupied with a surfeit of activities that may not result in happiness, and neglecting those that contribute to it.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

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