Live happier by moving to Singapore

Singapore is one of the happiest places in the world, argues Dan Buettner at the CLSA Investor Forum in Hong Kong.

How to live longer and happier was the theme of one of the luncheon sessions at CLSA’s annual investor forum last week. And the investors in attendance were all ears.

Sharing his findings was writer Dan Buettner whose second book – Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way – describes the regions in the world where people are happiest. Science has established, explained Buettner, that where we live is the largest input into how happy we are. The book is backed by the National Geographic and will be released in November.

“Let’s look at John who is happy,” said Buettner. “Let’s look at another person who is not happy – let’s call him an analyst,” he added to uproarious laughter. 

Buettner worked with Gallup, the World Values Survey and the World Data Base on Happiness to find that Singapore, Monterrey in Mexico, Aarhus in Denmark, and Lorma Linda in California are four pockets in the world where people are measurably among the happiest in the world.

“I can see people heading for the door,” said Buettner when he mentioned Singapore, adding that when he began, he himself expected Asia’s happiest spot would be Fiji or Bhutan but research proved otherwise. “This really damages my credibility, I know.”

Singapore is the fastest-growing economy in the history of the world, has a reputation for overly focusing on order and is known for its draconian laws, said Buettner, stating what the CLSA audience knows only too well.

“In America what’s important is freedom of expression, in Singapore it is marching in step,” he elaborated, adding that for Singaporeans having the five Cs (cash, credit card, condominium, car, and club membership) drives happiness.

Buettner managed to get two interviews with Lee Kuan Yew before he published his book and seems to have been won over as he commented “there is some octane behind [Lee Kuan Yew’s] decisions”. However, Buettner conceded that Singapore ranks high on evaluated happiness, but not on experienced happiness.

Experienced happiness peaks at an income level of around $75,000 for a family, was one finding Buettner shared with the room. Above this level, time spent on activities like volunteering, social interactions, or a hobby will yield more happiness than higher earnings.

“You had me until you said Singapore,” said one fund manager before he posed his question to much mirth.

Earlier, Buettner travelled across the globe to identify Blue Zones -- pockets of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives and which forms the subject of his first book, The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest. Buettner found five such places: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. He briefly shared some of the findings of his earlier research with the preamble “normally I spend 90 minutes each on longevity and happiness but CLSA is all about bang for buck so I’ve been given only 45 minutes”.

Buettner has distilled the essence of the lifestyles adopted by people in these Blue Zones into nine habits, which he terms the Power Nine: move naturally, that is stay active but don't necessarily push yourself to extreme exercise; reduce food intake; eat a diet of pre-dominantly plant foods; drink two glasses of red wine daily; have a life purpose; down shift or destress; belong to/participate in a spiritual community; put loved ones first and make family a priority; and pick the right tribe, which means surround yourself with loving people.

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