Constant worry will help us improve

In an interview with Dan Buettner in the book Thrive: Finding Happiness The Blue Zones Way, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had rated his own happiness at five out of 10 when he was prime minister, and six after becoming minister mentor, adding: "Nothing would take me to nine... Then I would be complacent, flabby and walk into the sunset."

This is a very sobering and wise truth. We must never forget it was the spurs stuck on hinds of Singaporeans which got us here today.

We should be very vigilant never to hit the nine mark, or even eight.

We may then become a hedonistic society, and that will be the start of our undoing.

With the world mired in much uncertainty today, our state of mind should be that of perpetual worriers, ever dissatisfied with the status quo.

Yes, Singapore has constantly performed poorly in measures of happiness and positive emotions, with a 2011 Gallup poll of 148 countries even putting Singapore below troubled Iraq.

But I am sceptical of such polls.

What is true and borne by good scientific data is that a continued rise in income does not produce a corresponding rise in well-being beyond a certain point.

Perhaps we should tweak the type of meritocracy we practise, for that can shape the happiness index too.

A competitive meritocracy that rewards only the top winners is detrimental and leads to a huge divide in Singapore society.

In the end, happiness and morale in Singapore's society are very much linked to harmonious relations among Singaporeans.

More will benefit and be happier if effort and industry, not just grades and degrees, are also rewarded.

Wong Horng Ginn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2018, with the headline 'Constant worry will help us improve'. Print Edition | Subscribe