WHAT MAKES THE SINGAPORE WOMAN HAPPY
More than just money and career successes, family and friends play a significant part in our happiness.
We’re generally a blissful bunch, so say half of the women in Her World’s Happiness Survey 2019 – and the rest are seemingly contented.
The best indicators of happiness are career success, good health and financial security, but women seek more to find fulfilment, freedom and purpose at different stages of their lives.
In the last quarter of 2019, Her World – in collaboration with Centre For Mindfulness Singapore (CFMS) – put together Her World’s Happiness Survey 2019, and cobbled the answers from 1,241 women from different age groups to find out what makes them happy – and what does not.
The CFMS, which was established in 2015, is a one-stop centre for mindfulness training, education and practice.
Indeed, women’s options are vast today compared to a generation or two before. Women everywhere are taking strides in their careers and making a mark in the workforce. While there’s no formula to happiness, we make bold, meaningful changes to our work, attitudes, surroundings and relationships, to set us on course for a happier life the way we know how.
Even though it can be an elusive path, a wonderful thing happens as we grow older into our 50s and 60s. As the survey results show, we become happier. Just as life is finite, we take stock of our blessings and all that we have experienced.
Freedom gives us options
For some, happiness isn’t always about getting richer. The financially comfortable lot of 8.7 per cent who make over $10,000 do not feel the need to bump up their wealth to be happier.
It comes as no surprise that we hit a higher index for happiness as our coffers grow: Those who earn more than $10,000 a month are the happiest lot (66.7 per cent), followed by those making between $5,000 and $10,000 a month.
While the almighty dollar can’t buy happiness, it gives us the freedom and options to make decisions where money isn’t the only deciding factor. That freedom affords us guilty pleasures such as holidays. For instance, 84 per cent of respondents who earn over $10,000 a month splash out on annual vacations (spending at least $5,000 a year), while 55 per cent who make up to $5,000 a month spend within their income bracket on annual trips. Career and leisure are the main focus for young women in the 21-30 age group.
Senior sales manager Susan Leng, 29, says: “I work hard to save for two week-long holidays a year. I feel more refreshed and happier after that.” Even though she clocks 50 hours a week, she says she’s happy at work – like 41.8 per cent of respondents – while 31.6 per cent are “neutral” or seemingly contented in their careers.
Many also invest in their professional development to scale the ladder in a competitive economy like Singapore’s. Last year, more than half of the respondents upgraded their skills or learnt something new.
Good relationships make us happier
Meaningful relationships are the greatest indicators of happiness, perhaps more than money and career. Women who are married are the happiest lot, forming 57.5 per cent of respondents.
When it comes to family, mummies are truly a blissful set. Interestingly, 66.7 per cent with three to four children found life to be most meaningful, compared to those with up to two children or more than five children.
As mother-of-three Meredith Chu, 39, an admin manager, puts it: “My kids ‘complete’ me. Their laughter or a hug makes a bad day good, and they give me a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life.”
People to count on
And when the going gets tough, our “troops” play a significant part in our well-being. That is, having a friend or family member whom you can confide in, providing moral support.
While six per cent of respondents say they have no support network, 41 per cent have more than four friends whom they can turn to for help first before approaching their siblings and parents, in difficult times.
WE ARE young BUT unhappy 31.1%
We assume that the young and carefree are the happiest, but it’s not always the case. By Cheong Wen Xuan, 23
Millennials have long been mocked for being narcissistic, entitled and lazy. As if those labels aren’t enough, they struggle with a real problem: being unhappy (single) workhorses. More in their mid to late 20s have been putting their careers before marriage, as population censuses of 2018 and 2015 have shown. Millennials live in an increasingly competitive economy. A bachelor’s degree is no longer enough. Master’s degrees and postgraduate certifications have become the norm. I know how it’s like for my younger peers under 20 – the age group that forms the biggest bulk of unhappy folks at 31 per cent, who rate wealth as top priority – while those like myself, who’re between 21 and 30 years old, are scowling behind in second place at 13.2 per cent in Her World’s Happiness Survey 2019. Then, as a university student, I spent more afternoons with my tutors than socialising. I was a member of the lonely, paper-chasing, pre-career adult club. Now, as the oldest millennials turn 40, thus qualifying for Eldershield, the youngest of the lot at 23 will soon make way for Gen Z in the workforce. As goal-oriented Singaporeans, some things never change.
We’ll continue to conquer one thing after another in the form of acronyms we’ve grown so familiar with even before we hit puberty, from PSLE, GCE O Levels, GCE A Levels, DIP to BA… The list goes on. Even as I hurdled my way towards becoming a working adult, a dreamy property ad depicting a happy family triggers three letters in my mind – BTO (built-to-order) flat. Will I be rich enough to afford one at 35, in case I wind up single and miserable? Okay, maybe not rich, but with enough in the bank to put a down payment that’s equivalent to years’ worth of exotic annual vacations?
As it is, a large number of 20-somethings are dependants living with their Gen X and Baby Boomer ”pa” and ”ma”. It’s hard not to feel envious scrolling through your Instagram feed and seeing young newlyweds posing happily in their (own) homes. This makes us – the singletons – feel as if we’ve lost a big chunk in the game of pursuit. And the pursuit of higher education – get broke first to get rich later – is out of the question for some. While singlehood seems to disrupt the plan of what’s next, life isn’t all about that, and romance isn’t the only shape that love takes. Don’t compare. Think friends, family, selflove and more.
But if being self-partnered is the root of our unhappiness, step out and live up to our digitally savvy rep to scroll, swipe and tap to find love – and expand our social circle.
UNPLUGGED & HAPPY
Three female farmers find joy living outside the concrete jungle and embracing the laid-back approach of slow living.
VERONICA TAY & FRENCHESCAR LIM
OLIVIA CHOONG, 40
She is Singapore’s green girl on Instagram (@ tendergardener), and also the cofounder of local non-profit green movement, Green Drinks Singapore. The home-farmer has learnt many life lessons from her garden.
When her rooster crows at the break of dawn, she gets up for a cup of tea or simply rolls back into bed. Her day begins between 11am and 12pm, when she’s fully rested.
Next, Olivia Choong feeds her chickens and prunes the shrubs at the expansive backyard of her family bungalow in MacPherson.
The backyard is sectioned into three plots of land. One for a chicken coop that fits three chickens, another for bigger trees like mulberry, and the other for new plants like taro and popcorn. Oh, she keeps bees, too.
The former Republic Polytechnic lecturer who became a full-time home farmer has been slow-living since 2012.
Olivia says: “Singaporeans are so used to routine. That’s fine if it keeps you inspired. For me, taking it slow enlivens my mind.”
She adds: “It’s not hard to just take time off when you feel stressed. A short stroll in the park near your home will clear your mind.”
Balancing the slow life with society’s pace keeps her in touch with reality. When she’s not farming, Olivia freelances as an event organiser and does public relations for eco companies.
Her love for farming began when she was studying in Perth, Australia. Tending to the garden at the house she lived in struck a chord within her.
In 2007, she returned home and set up Green Drinks Singapore, a non-profit movement that raises awareness on pertinent environmental issues.
More recently. Olivia headed to Byron Bay in Australia, where she became interested in beekeeping.
During her four-month stay there, she enrolled in beekeeping and farming courses conducted by Australian nature company Milkwood.
Her pay-off: Olivia attracted a colony of bees to her DIY hive in Singapore. And when the bees didn’t survive a wax moth infestation, the positive farmer took that as a life lesson.
“Things aren’t always in your control. Now, I’m trying to attract a new colony of bees.”
KIMBERLY HOONG, 24
She's the deputy head of Foodscaping at Edible Garden City. A life-changing six-month stay in the Indian Himalayas made her see the different ways of living more consciously and sustainably.
The idea of slow living for Kimberly Hoong is simply taking a step back and not getting caught up in the daily grind. The 24-year-old once suffered from anxiety as a result of packing too many activities within a day.
Kimberly, the deputy head of Foodscaping at Edible Garden City (EGC) in Queenstown, says: “Being in nature makes me realise that there is so much more out there (in life). Slow living translates to happiness because I live more consciously and mindfully, thinking twice before I buy something.”
The EGC, an urban farming social enterprise, sells fresh produce to food and beverage outlets, builds and maintains food gardens in the city, and conducts farming workshops.
She adds: “You don’t need so many clothes or all the expensive food to be happy. You don’t need to earn a million bucks. You can be happy if you learn how to live simply.” The millennial female farmer discovered her passion for farming at 19.
She started an urban farming group in the National University of Singapore (NUS) that involved environmentally related activities such as visits to community gardens and local farms. The group also set up an edible garden in school with composting and vermicomposting, which is the product of the decomposition process using various species of worms to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste.
As fulfilling as the work was, Kimberly often felt tired as she overloaded herself with too many activities. It wasn’t until a life-changing six-month stay in the Indian Himalayas that made her see things quite differently.
The trip was part of an exchange programme during her Yale-NUS College days. On that trip, she realised that she could live life and take things at a much slower pace.
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