Thursday, November 29, 2012

Singapore: rich, but emotionless

Singapore received some media attention recently for being the most emotionless country in the world. This stemmed from a Gallup study which interviewed residents in more than 150 countries, asking if they experienced five positive and five negative emotions the previous day:
  • Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
  • Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  • Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
  • Did you experience enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, and/or anger?
The "yes" responses were then averaged. Here only about a third (36% to be exact) of Singaporeans experienced one of these emotions the previous day, the lowest in the world. The global average was about half, and the most emotional country was Philippines, with a score of 60%.

This, ironically, led to some emotional responses from Singaporeans. For instance, one local politician rebutted the findings by listing a number of recent incidents which sparked public outrage and interest.

On the other hand, a Gallup partner commented that "if you measure Singapore by the traditional indicators, they look like one of the best-run countries in the world... but if you look at everything that makes life worth living, they're not doing so well".

Is Singapore really "not doing so well"? Is it because of our high GDP?

The chart below plots income (GDP per capita) against Gallup's emotional score (% of yes answers). Generally, the richer the country is, the more emotional it becomes. Money might buy happiness, and other positive emotions. However, it might come with work-related stress, so one might also experience more negative emotions. When I crunched the numbers, I found that a 10% increase in income is associated with a 2.4% increase in emotional score (e.g. 50 to 51.2). This correlation is statistically significant.

I also found that Singapore is quite an emotional outlier. Although the 11th wealthiest country, its score is far lower than what it "should" be. For example, Finland has a similar GDP per capita compared to Singapore, but its emotion score of 49 is quite close to the line of best fit, and much higher than Singapore's score of 36.

Is being emotionless really a bad thing? Some call it emotional stability, while others call it emotional dullness.  Businessweek says that "Singaporeans aren't enjoying their prosperity", but who are we to judge if Singaporeans truly don't want to loosen up? To each his own, I say. 

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