‘’If you want to be happy, be.” This statement provides us with an attractive notion which many wish to have in our daily lives. Yet, this statement portrays happiness as being easily attainable and asserts that we can be happy, as long as we have the desire to do so. However, is true happiness really that attainable in today’s world? If it really is, then the world would be a brighter and more pleasant place, since happiness is something that most strive to attain. In today’s world, however, in the hustle and bustle of work, with overwhelming pressure on every individual to perform, and the various problems in the financial, political and social sectors, happiness appears to elude us more than ever.  

Happiness is not easily achieved today due to our human nature of greed. By obtaining something we want, we feel happy. However, it is our nature to constantly want more, and if we do not stay satisfied with what we have, we may let greed take over. This would result in a vicious cycle of always wanting more and we will never be truly content and happy with what we have. One of the wishes people share these days is, “To become rich and famous!” Yet, it is not difficult to find a family where relationships have broken down because members have become more materialistic. Siblings go to court for the matter of inheritance, and people commit immoral crimes against their parents for money. Some people claim that they work hard so as to make money for the happiness of their children. They believe that the more they have, the better they can raise their children, and that the more wealth they give to their children, the happier their children’s future will be. However, what children really need to inherit is not wealth, but a family environment that is functioning well. Moreover, many celebrities often seem happy and satisfied in the public’s eye. Yet, it is becoming more and more common to see celebrities end their lives prematurely. The Swedish DJ and producer, Avicii, was extremely popular globally, winning countless awards for his music. However, he passed away suddenly, taking his own life in 2018. This illustrates how despite the fame and money that celebrities earn, many of them are dissatisfied. In extreme cases, they even go to the extent of committing suicide. Therefore, the secret to attain happiness is to adopt an attitude of gratitude instead of greed or fame.  

At the same time, in today’s world, there is a high level of competition amongst countries and between individuals, which impedes on one’s ability to be happy. A study carried out by Victoria Medvec, a social psychologist, showed that athletes who won bronze medals were happier with their winning than those who won silver medals. The reason is that bronze medalists were simply happy to receive honor and stand on the podium instead of having no medal, whereas silver medalists were not satisfied at the thought that they narrowly missed a gold medal. It means that they lost their joy as they compared themselves with gold medalists. Comparing oneself with someone else always makes an individual feel belittled and unhappy. This shows how the competitive nature of our society has led us to be unhappy as we only focus on what other people portray of their status, abilities and accomplishments. In a competitive society such as Singapore, where we are the most competitive nation in the world according to the World Economic Forum, citizens face increasing pressure and overwhelming amounts of stress to perform. Instead of enjoying themselves, people are rushing to meet deadlines and fighting to keep their jobs. It is therefore unsurprising that happiness takes a backseat, as stress weighs people down. Fear of underperforming is causing people to work for money instead of satisfaction. Therefore, sadly in today’s highly competitive society, citizens may not be able to live out the ideal of just being happy if they choose to do so.

Moreover, in today’s society, even children are not able to enjoy their childhood. Ideally, childhood should be a carefree and happy time of enjoyment. However, in societies where academic performance is prized, schoolchildren are paying a heavy price. While Singapore has been largely successful in global education rankings, constantly ranking one of the top 5 nations globally, at the same time students in Singapore are reporting symptoms of anxiety and stress related to school as early as primary school, and there have been extreme cases where pupils have been driven to suicide. Youths often face long days at school, hours of homework, and extra classes, which are having an impact on mental wellbeing. A recent report by OECD found that overall, the nation’s pupils reported higher levels of anxiety than average. In Japan, 659 Japanese aged 20 or under died by their own hand in 2019, which was an increase of 60 from the year before. In China, children as young as five are pushed hard in sporting arenas and studies. Even in Singapore, toddlers as young as eight months old are attending lessons and enrichment classes. 

At the other end of the demographic spectrum, ‘retirement’ is a word that many look forward to, where one can be happy and stress-free after a lifetime of work. However, in today’s society, the elderly are also not as happy as they should be. It is true that the elderly lead more comfortable lives as compared to one or two generations ago. Their children work hard to provide for them and they also are eligible for subsidies from the government. Hence, the elderly are able to spend their retirement years without having to worry much about daily necessities. Yet, in Singapore, the number of elderly people taking their own lives reached a record high in 2017. Some 129 people aged 60 and older committed suicide, despite the total number of suicides declining in the same year. Those who are sick, have little or no family or dependent help and are socially isolated may be more susceptible. This is because most would not want to be a burden to others as most adult children lead busy lives and may not be able to give as much attention to parents as the elderly need. The social interaction and emotional support they require are not there and therefore, elderly isolation has caused many elderly to feel unhappy and some are even driven to the brink of depression. 

However, not all hope is lost, as happiness still can be attained today due to the government’s efforts to raise the level of happiness in the country. In the recent Covid-19 outbreak, the government implemented social distancing to help Singapore cope with reducing the spread of the virus. However, social distancing has been hard on many, especially the vulnerable and the elderly. Hence, the Silver Generation Office (SGO) has deployed volunteers to help this segment of society in many ways such as picking up their groceries and accompanying them for hospital appointments. These volunteers call the elderly citizens once every week to check in on them, and these elderly often quote that it is good to have someone to chat with them. This shows that the government has done much to provide the elderly in Singapore with companionship and assistance, ensuring that their well-being is being looked after in their retirement years.

In the final analysis, we may face many problems in today’s world, with rising costs of living as well as the presence of many conflicts in the world. The stress and pressure of society acting on people can result in them not being happy, and even the benefits we have today may actually be a source of sadness. However, we do have a choice, to be satisfied with what we have. Despite the problems we face, we can choose to be happy. True happiness that comes from a deep inner contentment with what we have may not be that elusive, if we choose to focus on this rather than on the externals.