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Are Singaporeans dead inside?

Are Singaporeans dead inside?



On a recent episode of a podcast, Singapore came up once again (it’s a British podcast, and probably my favourite podcast), and the associated statistic was… notable.

Here it is: According to a Gallup poll in 2012, Singapore was ranked the least emotional country in the world.

First sentence of the associated Gallup news article: “Singaporeans are the least likely in the world to report experiencing emotions of any kind on a daily basis.”

And, this… honestly feels quite true. It’s at least not surprising or outlandish.

It’s worth noting the methodology to the study: Interviews with individuals who answer yes/no to questions that ask about either positive or negative emotions.

In subsequent studies by Gallup, they’ve instead recategorised results into a Positive Experience Index and Negative Experience Index – it is probably a more relevant reflection of societal happiness/unhappiness. (You can find the report here.)

But back to the original survey, and the original point: Are Singaporeans really emotionless, and why?

peter-nguyen-CQhgno3yhv8-unsplash.thumb.jpg.383c1a248c86707feb587ff776a1065f.jpgSome analysts chalk this up to a culture of high productivity and high discipline – which explains us being one of the highest GDP per capita countries in the world (meaning richest). And there’s a good amount of truth to that.

With a society built around productivity, even from young with a highly competitive and results-driven education system that arguably favours a stoic approach to life, Singaporeans can be characterised as robots (highly effective, highly efficient ones).

And while I am clearly no anthropologist, I think most Singaporeans will recognise and probably agree with this assessment. It might be a tad too harsh to call us emotionally suppressed, and I don’t think emotionality is naturally counter-productive to work efficiency, but I do think that many Singaporeans perceive overt emotionality as being a less ideal state of efficiency. (It’s probably also somewhat indicative that the other countries ranked after Singapore - Georgia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - are all ex-Soviet states that may be stereotypically characterised as unemotional and workman-like.)

However, economic factors cannot be the only explanation. In fact, Singapore is something of an outlier in the data sets, where more wealthy countries tend to rank higher on emotionality.

tengyart-_VkwiVNCNfo-unsplash.thumb.jpg.567e60e2058a64ce1e98fdb30fc64521.jpgI also wonder if a part of it is our ability to recognise and articulate emotions – and whether there are more cultural explanations.

I come back to a phrase that I hear often (and am guilty of using often, too): “Ok lor.”

While it might be a fairly generic uttering, I do think there’s something implicitly Singaporean about that attitude – instead of recognising and reconciling our present emotions, we instead consciously or subconsciously choose not to acknowledge it, or any emotion at all.

And there’s cultural explanations for this: Think about our upbringing, and especially with the older generations where being outwardly emotional is not particularly encouraged. Instead of feeling the swings of happiness and sadness, instead we are encouraged to adopt a more neutral emotional state.

And maybe as a result, we’re also less equipped to recognise varying emotions day-to-day, and to articulate them.

Hence, ok lor. Like that lor. Sui bian lor.

carson-arias-u5FWwCUWIHs-unsplash.thumb.jpg.d4bff7f31418018b32e0bace92f3936a.jpgThis grey blasé approach to life is maybe our armour, but I wonder if it’s then robbing us of richer, more colourful experiences. It’s arguably in no way a ‘bad’ societal condition, because it has to be evaluated across a spectrum, but that shouldn’t mean that we take our existing emotional state (or unemotional state) as a foregone conclusion.  

Is this the absolute cost of efficiency and productivity? If so, is this a cost worth paying? But perhaps more importantly, why should this be the cost to pay?

And culturally, positive experiences appear to radiate out of Latin America, as well as some of our neighbouring countries (Malaysia and Thailand, especially). Perhaps we could learn some cultural lessons – just as a way of enriching our daily emotional lives and all the ups and downs that we will experience. There is value, I believe, in being more emotionally adept.

galen-crout-s5y9nXREoCA-unsplash.thumb.jpg.c7e1eaf9906658da4b896a74466228f3.jpgSingapore doesn’t seem to appear in subsequent reports, though it’s also worth highlighting that Gallup has changed their reporting approach. We’re neither high nor low on negative experiences, but neither high nor low on positive experiences either. We’re likely decidedly mid, as the kids would say.

“What Is the World's Emotional Temperature?” is how Gallup headlines its research, a grand question with interesting answers. And while clearly Singapore’s emotional temperature is decidedly tepid, it is perhaps worthwhile for us to individually ponder our personal emotional thermostat.

And maybe, just maybe, we can figure out that we aren’t all just dead inside.  

~ Desmond

Photos from Unsplash

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No one is dead inside lah.

What we are is numb.

Now we don't choose to be like this 

but we worked out in the end it's the best way.

Change our environment and you will see our expressiveness change too.

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