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Singapore, T&T and happiness

By Leonard Bernstein

Part I

Sunity Maharaj ("Selling joy to the world", Sunday Express, December, 2012) reported on some "happiness levels" in various countries, emphasising differences in Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and Latin American (LA) countries. She highlighted T&T as being much happier than Singapore. T&T was also singled out for often being negatively compared with Singapore.

However, she did not note that Singapore happens to be one of the world's more prosperous nations. I also point out that Singapore has neither oil nor natural gas; for natural resources all it has is the world's third busiest harbour but, above all, its main natural resource is from the utilisation of the intellectual capacity of its people.

Ms Maharaj then makes reference to the level of happiness in a number of LA countries. The LA countries, it is noted are mainly Catholic countries. However, they are not particularly noted for lack of corruption. Indeed, as Kevin Baldeosingh has pointed out in previous articles, the more religious a country, the more corrupt it is — Nigeria being the prominent exemplar. Nor are the LA countries particularly noted for democratic governance, high living standards, high educational attainment, or scientific achievement.

Is it that countries with authoritarian or centrally controlled religions – which rely on mind control indoctrination, adhere to concepts like "man (and one assumes women also) is born to suffer", "the deity sees and knows all" and that "the 'Lord' works in mysterious ways" – produce a non-thinking mentality? Is the happiness factor based upon the Panglossian concept that this is the best of all possible worlds and, as such, the population cannot be anything but happy? Is it a case of ignorance being bliss?

It does appear to be the case that in countries where people have the opportunity to question what they are told and think for themselves, the general "happiness quotient" is much lower; but, we would have to have some common understanding of what constitutes "happiness". However, whatever our working definition or our understanding of happiness, it does not seem to be the case that people from these supposed unhappy countries are clamouring to immigrate to these LA putative bastions of happiness.

Measuring "happiness" is a tricky business. There are a number of concepts to consider in this "happiness" business: to be brief, they are happiness, unhappiness, non-happiness, the level of being content or not content, and satisfaction with quality of life factors. Asking someone to rate themselves as being either happy or unhappy is unlikely to catch all the subtleties involved.

There are objective and non-objective, or subjective, aspects of the parameters that constitute who may or may not be "happy". Non-objective parameters are highly individual, hard to define and may vary greatly from person to person, time to time, and culture to culture. Objective ones are much easier to enumerate, but typically reflect the larger context in which the person lives. They include examples such as life expectancy, infant mortality rates, literacy and education levels, physician/people ratios, crime rates, homicide/murder rates, education expenditures.

To flesh out Ms Maharaj's report, let us look at some data comparing Singapore and T&T. Following, I have assembled some data (statistics if you will) on these subjects that compare the differences between Singapore and T&T.

1. Life expectancy

• Singapore: Ave. 81.0 Male 79.0 Female 83.0

• Trinidad

and Tobago: Ave. 69.8 Male 67.8 Female 71.8

The main factor behind Singapore's longer average life expectancy is their world-class healthcare system. When their government saw the booming elderly population in the 1980s, they planned accordingly with excellent healthcare systems for the elderly, and also improved the general healthcare system. However, the government cannot, and does not, pay for all health services, so if a person cannot pay privately, he has to do without.

2. Infant mortality rate

(deaths per 100,000 live births)

• Singapore: 2.60 (Ave. last 3 years) Lowest in the world

• Trinidad and Tobago: 28.10 (Ave. last 3 years) 106th in the world

Lowering the infant mortality rate has a great statistical effect on improving the number for life expectancy. A high infant mortality rate skews the curve to its lower end.

3. Literacy and Education

• Singapore: Ave. 92.5 per cent, Male 96.6 per cent, Female 88.6 per cent – age 15 and over can read and write (2000 census)

• T&T: Ave.98.6 per cent, Male 99.1 per cent, Female 98 per cent – age 15 and over can read and write (2003 est. by CIA)

It is noted that the data for T&T is an estimate in the CIA World Handbook which is based upon information supplied by the T&T Government and may be an estimate of access to education, rather than achievement of literacy. However, literacy data for T&T collected by the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) in 1995 showed a 22 per cent illiteracy rate for T&T, an estimate that was confirmed in a subsequent study commissioned by the T&T Government and conducted by UWI. The ALTA study also reported that only about 45 per cent of the T&T population could read the local newspapers with any degree of understanding, a far cry from the >90 per cent cited.

(Concludes on Friday)

* Leonard Bernstein has worked

as a professor of orthodontics

at Boston University School of Dental Medicine, an environmental consultant

and a medical education consultant

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