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Why Materialism is Making Singaporeans Unhappy

Why Materialism is Making Singaporeans Unhappy

Joanne Poh

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There are many reasons to explain why Singaporeans are such a dour bunch, and at the heart of most of them is money. While the fact that this place is so darned expensive definitely puts a dampener on many people’s spirits, could it be that individual attitudes also play a part in causing unhappiness?

A 2012 news report revealed that Singaporeans regard being “kiasu” as the top value in society. The other values identified were “competitiveness”, “materialism”, “self-centredness” and “elitism”. And then there was that SMU study that lambasted Singapore girls for being materialistic. Not exactly a recipe for happiness and the warm fuzzies.

There have been numerous findings that materialism causes misery. Let’s take a closer look at just how materialism is wreaking havoc on the lives of Singaporeans.

 

1. Preoccupation with amassing money creates unhappiness

The fact that you’re even reading this indicates some interest in money. And being conscious about your spending is a good thing.

But being obsessed with amassing money can generate anxiety and depression. Just ask investment bankers why they are so unhappy.

In Singapore, one way people stab themselves in the foot is by remaining long term in jobs they detest because of the money. Numerous polls have shown that Singaporean workers are unhappy, and that most view their jobs solely as a means to earn money. And as salary continues to be a factor that disappoints most Singaporeans, it’s no wonder the average Singapore office feels like a prison.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that salary and benefits had a relatively low impact on Singaporeans’ happiness at work, once a baseline had been arrived at.

This means the key to increasing quality of life might be to focus less on salaries when deciding on a job… although with the cost of living rising so quickly it doesn’t seem as if people are going to be able to take their minds off the money anytime soon.

 

2. There is no direct correlation between money and happiness

Numerous researchers have banged their heads over whether money can buy happiness, and the results have shown that there is no direct correlation.

If you’re living in a wooden crate or need to schedule your showers for days the water hasn’t been cut off, more money will certainly make you happier. But being able to buy $7 coffee every day is probably not going to add any sunshine to your dreary existence.

This indicates that many Singaporeans would do well not to neglect other areas in trying to improve their lives, such as work-life balance, their close relationships and cultivating their interests.

And even when money is deployed to increase one’s happiness, it should be used efficiently, as spending money in different ways yields differing levels of happiness.

 

3. Materialism breeds insecurity and kiasuism

I can’t understand how some Singaporeans can be proud of kiasu-ism, wearing it like a badge of honour. According to the Wikipedia page dedicated to kiasu-ism, it is a “grasping, selfish attitude”. Not exactly a quality you want to pass down to your kids now, is it?

Unfortunately, money and materialism are at the root of Singaporeans’ kiasu behaviour.

95% of the time, the real reason kiasu parents smother their kids under piles of assessment books and wield the cane at every failed test isn’t really so their offspring will have the chance to broaden their minds when they’re older. It’s so they can rake in the cash as doctors, lawyers and bankers later on in life, and so they won’t be the only disgrace at the Chinese New Year reunion dinner who didn’t make it into university, thereby signalling the failure of their parents.

There’s no question that Singaporeans have a serious scarcity mentality. From being repeatedly told at a young age that the country is small and survival is difficult, to growing up to see billionaires roar past in their supercars, the average Singaporean is insecure, both about the future and in the present moment.

At the root of Singaporeans’ insecurity, whether about their jobs being stolen by foreigners or being priced out of the housing market, is the fear that there’s not enough money to go around.

This obsession with appearances extends to the reasonably affluent, seeing as blatant displays of wealth are deemed socially acceptable and even “cool” here by most segments of society.

Whether or not you think the above behaviour is justified, one thing is certain—it’s not making any of us any happier.

Do you think materialism has an impact on the emotional wellbeing of the people around you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image Credits:
William Cho

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Savier Seah

    I feel the article is at best trying to pull several different ideas together. How does materialism lead to kiasu-ism? The former is an obsession with material things; the latter is an overt fear of losing out.

    • Elearis

      An overt fear of losing out on material things?

  • Frigid

    Materialism is between needs and wants

  • Frigid

    Materialism occurred in countries where jobs are keen and competitive.

  • Don Liu

    Materialism is driven out of a sense of insecurity, attention seeking, wanting to be recognized and accepted by a chosen circle of people.

    It’s roots also includes egocentricity, indulgence, self-worth, and lastly the FEAR of being left behind.

    Did these people ever wonder “What is really Life?” Can they bring along all that they worked so hard for when they depart from this world?