Most places in the world no longer see men with the most land wielding the most power. In fact, power lies in the hands if those who live the most tightly packed together. Today, only three independent, sovereign city-states exist: Monaco, Vatican City and Singapore. Singapore, being a city-state facing a scarcity of land, our population density is the third highest in the world. There is not much room for negotiation when it comes to associating wealth with land. Recently, the figure 6.9 million triggered much public frustration during the release of the population white paper. Perhaps because Singaporeans cannot imagine a more crowded Singapore. From sardine-packed trains to pigeon hole HDB flats, Singaporeans feel suffocated, with no place less crowded to take refuge without leaving the country.
As a city-state, when we speak of quality of life, we need to look beyond financial indicators such as income. A current heated topic of discussion would be the issue of work-life balance. What constitutes to work-life balance? Is there really a segregation between work and life or should both be merged?
I feel that work and life are most definitely not segregated and in fact should be looked at together. If one deems his or her job fulfilling, finds joy in it without compromising family life, haven’t we happily married both life and work? The definition or calibration of work-life balance is personal as everyone has different priorities and responsibilities. To find the right balance, it takes patience and time, something that many of us find scarce, but definitely worth the investment in the long term.
In Singapore, where our pace of life is so high, most people are highly strung throughout the day and are unable to relax. Could our pace of life be one of the contributors to the recent study showing Singapore to be the most unhappy and emotionless country? Pragmatism is what our country was largely built upon, and although many Singaporeans blame the Government for neglecting their emotions and insisting on doing it the practical way, it is ironic that these are the exact same people sending their children for countless tuition and enrichment classes, claiming that it is in the best interests of their children. Are they not being pragmatic as well?
As we strive for greater economic progress, we need to bear in mind that we cannot grow at all costs. Singapore should be a state before a city, because we were first and foremost a state before rapid urbanisation in our small land mass made us a city-state. The goal of the state should be to improve the wellbeing of the people. Economic progress is but a means to the end.
Singapore was built on the rock of meritocracy, and it has undisputedly been the reason for economic success. However, pure meritocracy will only bring a nation to its knees. Pure meritocracy is cold-hearted. It strives for progress at all costs, which we as a state cannot afford socially. Just as Budget 2013 seeks to provide equal opportunities to all, perhaps an equal emphasis should be given to providing every Singaporean with greater job satisfaction instead of simply providing a pay raise.
Changing policies are easy. It is the changing of mindsets that is the challenge. The mindset that we should grow at all cost, the mindset that we must be the best economically and academically to be considered to have succeeded in life, the mindset that we should seek to quantify every aspect of our lives. All these mindsets hinder the all round progress of Singapore as a state.
Is it possible for us to have a balanced lifestyle without being anti-competitive? Some people associate relaxation time as non-productive and thus do not allocate time to relax. Many see happiness as the outcome of success. In Shawn Achor’s book titled “The Happiness Advantage”, he challenges us to reverse the equation, and realise that success is the result of happiness. Having a happier, more balanced work, family and personal life, one can in fact raise productivity. We seem to have found the perfect solution, but the implementation is easier said than done.
Happiness cannot be forced. Happiness comes from within.
As we mature as a state, we should take a step further to advance holistically, bearing in mind that the welfare of our people should be the heart and soul of our actions.