Governance of a City-State
Young S’poreans Relatively Clear On What Makes Them Happy

By Chiang Wai Fong


The Young Singaporean Conference was held on 26 September 2012 with the theme, “Are Young Singaporeans Happy?” A total of 80 young Singaporeans from 25 to 35-years old representing diverse sectors of the Singapore society were invited to attend the conference.

During the full day event, participants were asked to put down their thoughts on “What is Happiness to you?” onto a mind map using keywords. The activity serves two objectives: first, as an effort of anonymous collaboration to brainstorm on the contents of happiness that young Singaporeans are looking for; and second, to encourage participants to think about the theme in their personal capacity while attending the conference.

First introduced by British psychologist Tony Buzan, a Mind Map is a thought or information organisation technique using visual diagram. It is often created using keywords, images, colour, icons and connecting branches and lines, with a central node/idea and major categories radiating from it. Contrasting it from the traditional linear style of note presentation, mind mapping encourages associative thinking and allows users to visualise information relations in a radially integrated, instead of linearly fragmented, picture.

In the Happiness mind map that was given to participants during the conference, a main branch with the keyword “Self” and one of its child branches with the keyword “Achievements” were provided to kick-start the mind mapping process. Participants were free to make changes to these two keywords. 41 completed Happiness mindmaps were collected at the end of the conference. Responses from these mindmaps were sorted onto a new collaborative Mindmap that gives an overview of what young Singaporeans want for their own happiness. This report shares some of the findings from the overview Mindmap.

Overview of Young Singaporeans’ Happiness Expectations

When collating inputs from the completed mind maps, similar keywords were sorted together. For example, “Work”, “Work place” and “Career” were grouped under “Work”.

In total, participants contributed seven first level main branches to the Happiness mind map: Self, Family, Work, Community, Society, Nation and Environment. The following table shows the number of participants who used these keywords to name their first level main branches, as well as the number of keywords contributed under each main branch:

Table 1: Number of participants who used each keyword on the first level main branch of the Happiness Mindmap and the number of keywords contributed under each main branch.


The table above clearly shows that participants who completed the mindmaps put the greatest emphases on “self” and “family” when thinking about their own happiness. Over 90% of the respondents regarded the “self” as an important component of their happiness, while about 70% considered “family” important too. Only 34% placed equal emphasis to their work/career, while only one respondent considered the “environment” an important factor for his or her personal happiness.

The findings also show that respondents had the most things to say about how to make the Self happy, a total of 72 keywords were generated for that branch and its child branches. However, looking at the number of keywords alone, there were not as many things that the respondents expected from the environment or the nation to make them happy. The follow sections discuss the contents of these branches in greater details.

The Contents of Happiness

There were seven key components to the Self branch that determine happiness for young Singaporeans, they are “Hopes”, “Aspirations”, “Achievements”, “Values”, “Friendship”, “Learning/Studies” and “Leisure”. Materialistic wants did not feature prominently in this mind map, the only two related items listed in this category were monetary freedom and being able to afford housing and private transport. The majority of keywords are non-material, focusing on hopes and aspirations like developing talent, pursuing dreams, acquiring useful skills, living a meaningful life, and acquiring spiritual well-being. There are also demands for personal growth in terms of life-long learning and embodying good values like honesty, humility, self-determination, and being passionate, as well as being honourable, useful and compassionate.


Valuing Values

“Values” featured prominently in the Happiness mind map for young Singaporeans. Besides values for the Self as mentioned in the section above, respondents also listed various values under the main branches of Family, Nation, Society and Work. Having a sense of identity for the nation is considered a “value” by some respondents that would eventually make them happy. With regard to society, respondents emphasise values like resilience, freedom and agency for one to live happily in it. As for the work place, there must be passion, respect and recognition of talent and skill to make a young Singaporean happy.

Besides listing the values that would make one happy, respondents also identified existing values to be reviewed. One respondent pointed out the necessity to review “elitism” in  Singapore society, while another called for a redefinition of family values.


Another keyword that was featured prominently was “Freedom”. The term appeared under the branches of Self, Family, Society and Work. The content for freedom converges for the branches of Self and Family with both alluding to financial and monetary freedom. Whereas at the Society branch, several young Singaporeans confessed that freedom for creativity and freedom as a societal value would potentially make them happy. In addition, freedom at work that translates to having the flexibility to balance or pursue different lifestyles is also an important consideration for happiness.



Diversity was mentioned in several branches. At the Self level, some respondents considered acquiring diverse skill sets as personal achievement that would make them happy. Similarly, being able to accumulate diverse working experiences is seen as a positive impetus for happiness. In addition, young Singaporeans revealed that part of being happy is to see a more diverse Singapore society, as well as to have the assurance that the diversity is being recognised.


Respondents also expressed the desire to see the country being governed in ways that promote the embracement of diversities, as well as showcase the willingness to deal with messiness.

Discussion and Conclusion

This anonymous collaboration exercise to find out what happiness meant to young Singaporeans has successfully elicited several dimensions. The overall picture is encouraging in the sense that young Singaporeans at the conference are relatively clear about what they want in order to be happy. The happiness contents are generally realistic, and they reflect mature thinking and passionate aspirations.

There is also an eagerness to engage the community and society at large for bonding, giving and to foster shared ownership. The desire to look beyond economic achievements for the nation, job scope KPIs for career satisfaction, and material attainment for personal success and growth, shows that young Singaporeans are prepared for a paradigm shift in development management. On the other hand, this paradigm shift could be propelled further with greater fervent if more voices are heard championing for environmental issues, including global climate, food nutrition, air quality and human relationship with nature.

Findings of this exercise are also useful for policy makers to not only understand what young Singaporeans of today want for happiness, but also to review and fine tune relevant policies, governance ideologies and management strategies.


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