Singapore — Two factors that are very important to achieving happiness are less fear and more freedom, according to Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Hazel Poa.
She also challenged Singapore’s youths to go beyond commonly-held definitions of happiness and prosperity to create a more equitable and compassionate society.
Ms Poa, along with Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, were the guest speakers at the closing discussion of the Young Singaporeans Conference 2020 organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.
The theme for the conference, which was held virtually from Nov 25 to 27, was “Choices”. Ms Poa and Mr Tong spoke specifically on what happiness, prosperity and progress mean to Singaporeans.
Ms Poa said: “In my opinion, there are two factors that are very important to achieving happiness — less fear, and more freedom. The World Happiness Report lists a safe environment and high social and institutional trusts as factors, amongst others, contributing to happiness and well-being.”
She then discussed how Singaporeans are afraid of the unfamiliar, and that fear of failure is present even among young children.
“A PISA study even found that Singapore ranks as one of the highest when it comes to a student’s fear of failure. And this fear of failure leads to a fear of the unfamiliar,” she added.
Ms Poa also underlined the need to reduce the fear of failure through changing perspectives and strengthening social safety nets, beginning with the education system.
“For example, remove high stakes exams where one single failure can have huge repercussions. Our young should have multiple opportunities and pathways to succeed. Failures should be seen as stepping stones along the way.”
The NCMP also talked about getting politically involved, which she says affects every area of our lives and is for everyone, not just politicians.
Getting involved “is for everyone who wants greater control over their own lives, greater power to shape their environment, and the freedom to make life choices. This control and freedom is an important factor in happiness”, she added.
When people do not get involved, they “cede control” over their lives, since they leave all decision-making to others.
Ms Poa noted that an early draft of Singapore’s National Pledge by one of the pioneer generation of political leaders, Mr S Rajaratnam, had the phrase “happiness and progress by helping each other”. This was later replaced by the ideal of prosperity, while the part about “helping each other” was removed.
Ms Poa said: “Today, the triple aims of ‘happiness, prosperity and progress’ have been hardwired into most Singaporeans. Instead of ‘helping one another’, we have opened the door to unbridled rat racing where an ‘each man for himself mentality’ has made us super competitive and less empathic to our less economically-able brothers and sisters. But competition without moderation for compassion would weaken our society and turn us into a financially wealthy economy but a poorer people.”
The NCMP, therefore, challenged the youths attending the conference to imagine what society would have been like otherwise: “… Imagine the kind of society where progress is not a product of competition but an outcome of helping one’s fellow citizen?”
Finally, Ms Poa said that perhaps it is time to redefine what prosperity is, beyond its economic implications. “Can we explore the concept of cultural prosperity, social prosperity, and civic prosperity, where the acquisition and accumulation of these assets allow us to create a more equitable and compassionate Singapore?”
Mr Tong also offered his perspectives on how the ideals of happiness, prosperity and progress can come together in the midst of an increasingly diverse society such as Singapore’s.
He said each person’s definitions of happiness, prosperity and progress are different, depending on the context of their lives. “That is the important part of how we define HPP — that it does mean different things to different people.”
Society then, must “provide space for each of these varied definitions to co-exist — what might make one happy, or another less happy must be allowed to co-exist. Even in our diversity, we need to find ways to converge on key values and priorities for our nation, so that we can decisively act on them”.
The minister also urged the youths attending the conference to be changemakers by working closely together, collaborating and sharing ideas, and developing them with each other. He also asked young people to “actively contribute to society” by seeing how they can be part of the solution. And, finally, he encouraged them to make the most of available support from the community or even national levels.
“If you have an idea to make a change but need some help to develop it, find funding or mentors, come and tell us. MCCY and the National Youth Council will be more than keen to work with you to do this,” he said. /TISG
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