What makes Singapore a happy place?  


Disneyland might be better known as the happiest place on earth. However, Singapore is not lagging far behind in our part of the world. In the latest World Happiness Report, our tiny red dot has retained the accolade of the happiest country in Asia for the second year running.

While we have areas to improve, the report gives us an opportunity to reflect on ‘happiness’. 

Offhand, one can easily think of plenty of things that are prerequisites towards happiness. Clean air and water. A safe and peaceful environment. Adequate food and shelter. High standards of education and healthcare. Plenty of opportunities and freedom to pursue one’s goals and dreams. In short, to live in a country that gives individuals the environment to pursue happiness and well-being for themselves and their loved ones.

Delving deeper, the above are end products of the one thing that truly mattered. A trait that sets Singapore apart from the region – good governance with low corruption. Together, they form the building blocks of what makes for a happy existence.   

Why good governance matters in the sum of happiness 

Growing up in Singapore, a clean and responsive public sector is more or less taken for granted. That is until we find ourselves overseas and realise what would have been pretty straightforward matters are not as clear-cut. Imagine a life where bribes and kickbacks are an everyday affair to get anything done. Or worse, one where law and order are merely an illusion when anyone can buy off the police to escape punishment. Now, that is not exactly the most enticing or stress-free environment to live in, isn’t it? 

Although overlooked, there is clearly a negative correlation between well-being and corruption. In building up a nation with a high intolerance to graft, early PAP leaders have laid a solid foundation for good governance (and a good life) in the road ahead. Today, we see that decision paying off big time in our everyday lives.  

Hospitals, schools, buses, trains, roads, parks, right down to the walkway linking one block to another in the heartlands. All such public amenities are well-maintained and built to a high standard because funds are not siphoned off to an offshore account somewhere, a fact of life that continues to plague many nations. 

Meanwhile, politicians and civil servants work to serve, developing policies that benefit Singaporeans. This includes attracting investments (and even Taylor Swift) to Singapore and building up industries higher up the value chain, allowing income and standard of living to rise over the years. Those who stray and abuse their positions are swiftly brought to justice. Is it any wonder why people from all over the world are flocking to live in Singapore? That is because they know a good thing when they see one. 

Finally, another reward of good governance that often goes unnoticed is freedom. At the basic level, safety in roaming the streets at any time of day, free from crime and harassment. Digging deeper, a belief in egalitarianism meant that there isn’t an entrenched class or caste system that prohibitively limits our opportunities from the day we were born.  

By and large, Singaporeans are free to pursue their passions and carve out the life they want in a peaceful and thriving society. The world is our oyster, no thanks to a powerful passport and astute diplomacy. Opportunities remain aplenty for individuals from diverse backgrounds through a meritocratic system of lifelong learning.  

In the end, the debate continues on whether Singaporeans are truly happy. For some, it is the ability to drive a Porsche. For others, it comes from savouring a bowl of bak chor mee. But regardless of personal aspirations, Singapore is a country where all the essential ingredients to build a happy life are lined up.

And once we start recognising them, as the folks surveyed for the World Happiness Report have done, we have much to be grateful for – thanks to our parents and their parents.  Finally, as we reflect on what makes Singapore tick, we have a duty to keep it going for our children and their children.