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Unhappy Singaporeans.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apparently, Singaporeans are the unhappiest people in the world if we believe a recent survey.

People here were less “upbeat” than those living in war-torn places like Iraq, Armenia and Afghanistan, Gallup suggested, based on a poll of 1000 respondents in each of 148 countries.

Nearly 150,000 respondents were posed five questions on whether they experienced a lot of enjoyment the day before the survey and whether they felt respected, well-rested, laughed and smiled a lot, and did or learned something interesting. While about 50 per cent of people in Armenia and Iraq did, only 46 per cent of Singaporeans could say the same.

Singapore came in first, ahead of Armenia, Iraq, Georgia, Yemen and Serbia, for being the least positive.

This led Gallup partner Joe Clifton to suggest that “higher income does not necessarily mean higher wellbeing,” given Singapore’s poor faring even though it ranks fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita.

Personally, I am rather sceptical. Why?

1. To me, the sample size of 1,000 respondents from each country is too small.

2. I would also ask how were the respondents chosen? Are the 1,000 respondents representative of the national population of the country?

3. Are the questions posed sufficiently exhaustive to conclude that Singaporeans are a unhappy lot?

While I agree that making more money might not make a person happier, I find it hard to believe that Singaporeans feel less positive compared to the nationals of war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan! Of course, this represents my personal opinion.

Read: Singaporeans unhappiest people in the world.


EC said...

Hi AK,

Indeed there can be so many factors influencing these survey results which leave one sceptical of the results. However, while we may dispute the absolute ranking I guess the relative position within a particular band should be more accurate. So the fact that SG is ranked quite far behind does suggest something.

We might expect the media and the public to start agreeing/ disagreeing or even disputing the results which might cause more unhappiness (lol!).

Ultimately happiness is as much as a state of mind as the material possessions so each person has to discover his or her own way towards being happy.

Best wishes,

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


If you visit some political forums or websites, you'll find lots of unhappy and angry compatriots.

On 2nd thought, don't go there least it spoils your mood!

I guess what counts is whether I am are happy or not.

If I am angry, having a survey telling me that 99% of my compatriots are happy won't make me any happier ;)

AK71 said...

Hi Eugene,

I would question even the band that Singapore finds itself in the survey. Together with Iraq and Afghanistan?

Depending on how the respondents were chosen and if the sample size were bigger and if we should include a few more questions instead of only the 5 in the survey, the results could be very different.

I did a module in statisics back in my uni days but I wasn't very good at it. I do remember how numbers could lie though. ;p

This survey's results will provide fodder for even more discontent and negativity. I think the comments section at Yahoo! Singapore will be having a field day.

AK71 said...


Oh, I have no doubt that there are many people out there with negative feelings. I just have to read the comments to my articles which were republished in Yahoo! Finance Singapore recently. ;p

I am not disputing the existence of unhappy Singaporeans. I am questioning the rigor of the method of the survey and the reliability of the survey results.

Freedom of speech is a good thing but with this comes responsibility. The media have a responsibility to report the truth or what approximates the truth. Less scrupulous parties would hide behind such "approximation" as it is open to interpretation.

1,000 respondents out of a national population 3 million strong. The sample size represents 0.0003% of Singaporeans. Even a sample size of 3,000 respondents would just be 0.001%.

EY said...

Hi AK,

N=30 would already be able to command certain statistical significance. No? :P

They'd probably done convenience sampling. One fuss free way is to go to Yahoo! comments section like you guys have noted. Just tally the spits and spats and they are done with their data analysis! How simple can it get, right?

Anyway, happiness is a choice, so is unhappiness. If the results are anything to go by, it simply reflects that more people have chosen to be unhappy. A tad sad that these respondents don't have that critical consciousness to even decide their emotions. Well, maybe they do but taking responsibility is beyond them as it is always easier to fault others for causing one's misery.

lzyData said...

I don't think sample size is an issue. I don't know much statistics myself, but at a 95% confidence level a sample size of 1000 yields a margin of error of about 3%. Pollsters usually do a sample of about 1000 even for a large population size, such as in US national election polling, because if you go larger than that there are diminishing returns.

If you look at Gallup's Country Data Set Details, in most countries they sampled only 1000 per country, regardless of population size. Even with absolutely massive surveys like 4000 for China, 3000 for Germany and 5000 for India, the margin of error only drops to around 2%.

So to be precise, 46 +/-3.8% Singaporeans report having all these positive emotions, whereas, for example, 80 +/-3.5% Malaysians do. Unless they purposely sampled an exceptionally gloomy bunch of Singaporeans, or a bunch of very positive Malaysians, the result is quite clear.

AK71 said...

Hi Endrene,

Really? This is statistically significant? I am not a satistician and I am looking at this from a lay person's perspective. ;p

Unfortunately, you are right about how some choose to be unhappy and in a group too, reinforcing their unhappiness. Group think, group feel?

Most certainly, almost everyone has a choice. Rare are those who don't.

AK71 said...

Hi IzyData,

I am not a statistician. You sound like you know a lot more than I do about statistics. So, I defer to you on this. :)

However, sample size is just one concern I have. Indeed, how were the respondents chosen and how was the poll conducted? Those are pertinent questions as well.

If we were to ask readers of Yahoo! Finance Singapore to respond to the survey, for example, then, the score could have been even worse. Over there, it seems that unhappy people are more vocal than happy ones. ;p

Sanye ◎ 三页 said...

Erm... AK, 1000 out of 3,000,000 is 0.03% and 3000 out of 3,000,000 is 0.1%.

One reason for the unhappiness might be that we are too competitive and like to compare alot. As the old saying "人比人氣死人“ goes you would always find someone better when you compare with those around you. Hence the unhappiness.
Merry Christmas

AK71 said...

Hi Sanye,

I feel you are right. Being fiercely competitive and being subjected to 1001 ranking exercises is just plain unhealthy. Competition is good as it pushes us to go that extra mile but too much and we could die from exhaustion. How much competition is imposed upon us and how much of it is self-inflicted?

Your numbers are right! Thanks for the correction. :) said...

Hmmm okay, first we were ranked the most emotionless country in the world, now we are one of the most unhappy people :)

emotions include happiness or unhappiness correct?

So how is that for consistency?

Anyway, when someone say they are "not happy" it does not necessary mean they are "unhappy" and just because one is NOT unhappy, it does not necessarily mean they are Happy either. :)

Surveys only take a snapshot of a cross-section of people's lives...not really conclusive.

Have a happy weekend !

AK71 said...

Hi EL,

Very incisive comments! Thank you. :)

This is the most rewarding aspect of blogging. Getting to hear and learn from so many people.

Kyran Tan said...

The definition of unhappiness can really differ from country to country, culture to culture. If i live in an impoverished country, I would be unhappy because I am always hungry. In the context of a first world country, I could be unhappy because I drive a small car while my peers are driving big continental cars, I get paid 4 digits while others get paid 5 digits. People are unhappy if what they have fall short of their own expectations. Self imposed pressure by comparing to what others have that you don't will always create troubles for yourself and then naturally you will be unhappy?

AK71 said...

Hi Kyran,

Yes, we might think that the bushmen of the Kalahari cannot be happy with only a loincloth. However, they might think us strange to be wrapped up in so much cloth. Hahaha... ;p

Time to revisit one of my earlier blog posts, perhaps:
Tea with AK71: Three point turn.

I enjoyed your comment. Thank you. :)

yeh said...

i see many people are richer than me, but they are not happier than me.

i feel sad for them.

Be contented with what we have.

AK71 said...

Hi Yeh,

The person who knows contentment finds lasting happiness. Right? :)

Cory said...

I think that's the key.

Happiness should be another key performance index not just GDP.

AK71 said...

Hi Cory,

How do we measure happiness? That is a tricky one. Is there a yardstick?

Kyran Tan said...

Ironically those who have the most tends to worry the most too. More to lose perhaps?

AK71 said...

Hi Kyran,

While I am not sure that this is the case for all with more, I am sure that such cases exist.

Well, it is how we deal with it, isn't it? :)

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