ST July 11, 2009
In this meritocracy, there's no time to smell the roses
I REFER to Thursday's letter by Mr Anil Bhatia, 'Wealthy and yet unhappy - how come, Singapore?'
There is a systemic flaw in our meritocratic system where we strive to be the best in everything, in meeting wants, in careers, in infrastructure. In the process, our human capital is put through various stress tests from a young age until retirement and even the grave.
The young are put to a stress test the minute they start formal education at primary level with homework and remedial classes. School holidays are filled with more lessons, remedial classes and co-curricular activities for upper secondary students. To gain entry to top junior colleges or polytechnics, students must achieve an aggregate score of eight points or less, compared to 10 to 15 points years earlier. How not to be stressed out?
Young adults struggle with work from demanding bosses who expect 24/7 due diligence from employees. Many in this age group struggle to acquire material wealth at the expense of pro-family, procreation activities. Mature workers worry about job security and those who are retrenched often remain chronically unemployed for a long while. Many in this age group (45 to 55) are most vulnerable, with massive expenses to take care of, such as children's education, housing loans, elderly parents' medical bills and retirement expenses. How to be happy?
The elderly are also vulnerable as their children may fall into the mature age group who are either struggling to maintain their livelihoods or unemployed.
With little financial support from their children, many are forced to work as cleaners or do other manual work with their limited skills. Retirees who have exhausted their Central Provident Fund savings are forced to go back to work with limited scope of employment in the current economic climate.
There is hardly any stage in the human cycle where we can slow down and
make an effort to smell the roses in society.
To understand the topic of happiness, we must first understand an important point - happiness is the only thing that we ever really want. Whether we realise it or not, literally all our actions and behaviours are based on the same ultimate motivation. We are always either seeking to move towards happiness, or to move away from suffering.
It could be a child asking for a toy or ice-cream. It could be a CEO busily building MNCs. It could be a student slogging for his exams. It could be an old man about to commit suicide. It could be a dog chasing a ball, or a cockroach running away from an insecticide attack. In all cases, the ultimate underlying purpose is always the same - to move towards happiness, and away from suffering.
But we do not move with equal skill and efficiency. A tiny minority of the human race are very, very good at it - they are the wise ones. The majority of us are clumsy at it - when happiness occurs, it occurs more like a random accident or a stroke of good luck. And some of us are downright bad at it. These are the people who find that their lives are plagued by anger, fear and pain .... day after day, year after year.
A thought for the weekend. If the ultimate motivation of every human being is happiness, then the world's most successful people are those who are happy every day. That is the only logical benchmark. It doesn't matter whether the person is a villager, a housewife, a top doctor or the president of a nation. After all, they all have the same goal. Their goal is to be happy.
So the happiest person among them is the winner.