How to be an unhappy Singaporean

This file photo shows pedestrians walking along Orchard Road in Singapore's upmarket shopping district, on September 20, 2011. Afghans and Iraqis have been traumatised by years of war but the people of super-rich Singapore are even more miserable, coming dead last in a Gallup ranking of "positive emotions" around the world

I love Singapore. I love it when I hear people speaking Singlish. I love eating my favourite hawker food. I love watching the National Day Parade and singing along to songs like “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” and “Stand Up for Singapore”.

But anyone who lives here knows that Singapore has issues it needs to tackle: cost of living, job creation, education, public transportation, and immigration policy, just to name a few.

Unhappy Singaporeans claim that it’s precisely because of these issues that they’re unhappy. (It’s encouraging to hear that we’re no longer the least happy people in the world though!)

I’m not someone who ignores problems. I face plenty of problems every single day, and I’m sure you do too.

But if you’re an unhappy Singaporean, you can’t blame it entirely on your problems. I know people who have experienced all sorts of catastrophes—sickness, disability, financial struggles, and worse—but who are still exceedingly kind, patient, gentle and joyful.

Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

Based on my observations of how some people think and act their way into misery, I’ve come up with seven ways that almost guarantee that you’ll become an unhappy Singaporean.

I hope this article serves as a reminder of things we—myself included—should avoid doing at all costs if we want to live with enthusiasm and zest.

1. Compare yourself with others

There will always be someone who’s more educated than you, who’s more physically attractive than you, who’s richer than you, and who’s more charismatic than you. If we try to become better than other people, instead of trying to be the best we can be, our successes will never bring us the fulfillment we’re looking for.

All of this “comparing” starts at a young age. As kids, we compare toys and grades. As adults, we compare status and wealth. Only when we’re able to get out of this mindset will we find happiness that’s meaningful and enduring.

2. Don’t define success for yourself

In Singapore, we tend to have a relatively fixed idea of what it means to be successful: Do well in school, get a good degree, get a good job (preferably as a doctor, lawyer or banker), drive a nice car, live in a nice house, and go on at least one nice vacation a year.

But whose definition of success is this? Is it our society’s definition, or is it our own?

It’s vital that we define what success means to us at a personal level. Is it about the knowledge and skills we want to acquire? Is it about the character traits we want to embody? Is it about the values we want to live by?

There isn’t a “one size fits all” definition of success, no matter what society might tell us. We need to think long and hard about what we want our lives to count for and what we want our legacy to be. Only then will we be able to succeed at the right things.

After all, succeeding at the wrong things is far worse than failing at the right ones.

3. Believe that having the 5 Cs will make you happy

The pinnacle of success in Singapore used to be represented by the 5 Cs: cash, car, credit card, condominium, and country club. But having these 5 Cs won’t make you happy.

We tend to think that if we achieve this or accomplish that or possess those things, then we’ll be satisfied. But more often than not, having this mindset propels us down the path of mindlessly accumulating things we don’t actually need.

In my opinion, it’s far more likely that having these 5 Cs will enable you to find long-term happiness:

  • Courage

  • Compassion

  • Commitment

  • Contentment

  • Curiosity

At the end of the day, enduring success is more about who you are and less about what you own or what you can do.

4. Believe that the government should solve all of your problems

Yes, our ministers and civil servants are well-paid (generally speaking).

Yes, we should expect them to do their jobs well.

Yes, we should expect our tax dollars to be put to good use.

But the government cannot, and will not, be able to solve all of our problems. The government doesn’t comprise of superheroes. If we spend all of our time complaining about how the government isn’t doing its job, instead of proactively improving our own situation, we’re bound to be unhappy.

Let’s ask ourselves this one question daily: “What is one thing I can do right now to make the situation better?”

Most of the time, that one thing is to take action, not to complain.

5. Troll the Internet

Neither should that one thing be to troll the Internet. People who visit websites just to leave nasty, hateful comments aren’t helping the situation. What Singapore needs is open, calm and logical dialogue. We don’t need any more Internet trolls who add fuel to the fire.

The anonymity of the Internet leads people to say things online that they’d never dare to say in person. I’m not against the freedom of speech or expression, but freedom should be exercised responsibly, with due consideration for other people’s views and feelings.

6. Constantly think that you’re underpaid

It’s a complaint I hear every day: “I’m so underpaid! I should be earning way more money than I currently do.” As you might expect, people who say this are unhappy. Extremely unhappy.

Instead of complaining that you’re underpaid, you could try one or more of the following:

  • Ask your boss for a promotion

  • Negotiate with your boss for more responsibilities and higher pay

  • Find a job that pays you more

  • Quit your job and start your own business

  • Upgrade your knowledge and skills so that your boss will have no choice but to pay you more

If you feel underpaid, you can take action today.

7. See happiness as a feeling instead of a choice

Many people associate happiness with a feeling of pleasure or exhilaration. We feel happy when we eat our favourite food or go on a roller coaster ride.

But this is a short-term kind of happiness. Long-term happiness isn’t something we feel; it’s something we work for. In other words, long-term happiness is a choice.

We can choose to change your attitude and behaviour. We can choose to hang out with people who are positive and encouraging. We can choose not to have a “victim” mindset. We can choose to set goals and take concrete steps toward achieving them. We can choose to take care of our health, and to nurture our most important relationships. We can choose to be grateful.

We really can choose to be happy—even though that choice will entail plenty of sacrifices and hard work.

In closing…

It’s definitely easier to be unhappy than happy. This explains why there are so many unhappy people around—but let’s not be one of them.

Let’s decide today to make happiness a priority, not just for our own benefit, but so that we can share our happiness with the people around us and benefit them.

Together, let’s build a Singapore known for its joyful and grateful people as much as its clean streets and delightful cuisine.

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.