Meet Simon Leow and Sherman Ho, the co-founders of Happiness Initiative, a social enterprise that translates the science of happiness and well-being into actions people can take. Driven by the idea of enhancing focus on well-being in education to create preventive measures against mental health conditions, they founded Happiness Initiative.
According to Simon and Sherman, to understand the reason why Happiness Initiative’s work is important, we must first understand the current state of Singapore’s mental health scene. Currently, the mental health space, we have efficacious treatments and stigma-reducing awareness campaigns. Notwithstanding these, Simon and Sherman strongly believe that there is a need for added measures in the prevention of mental illness. Treatment and awareness campaigns alone are unable to catch up with the increase in people developing mental health conditions. A nation’s mental health is also aggravated with the majority of the affected people not seeking help.
Richer but less happy is a syndrome in many parts of the world, observed Jeffrey Sachs Director of the Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing in 2019. Sachs made three important points that strongly resonated with Simon and Sherman:
• More nations realise that economic growth alone does not guarantee happiness
• Happiness and well-being can be measured and studied with rigour
• There are new and effective public policies to increase societal well-being
Simon and Sherman believe that well-being skills can be taught. So, while mental illness can be treated, in the same light, happiness and well-being can be learnt and cultivated.
Happiness is more than just fluffy feelings. Happiness is about how satisfied we are with our lives or how well we evaluate our lives. The measurement of happiness is a reflection of our quality of life. Simon shared that according to the World Happiness Report 2020, Singapore is ranked 31st in terms of happiness, out of 153 countries. The top spots are often secured by the Nordic countries. Yet, looking more closely at the specifics, he noted with that ironically, Singapore is ranked 1st in terms of healthy life expectancy, 1st in terms of perception of integrity in society, and 2nd in terms of GDP per capita, ahead of the Nordic countries. Hence, Singapore is rich, Singaporeans live longer and healthier lives, and Singapore has an efficient system built upon the foundation of integrity. Yet, there are other factors that may be preventing Singaporeans from reaching the top places in terms of happiness.
The same report also ranked Singapore 14th, in terms of Singaporeans’ freedom to make life choices. Singapore achieved 37th place for social support and 57th place for generosity.
Simon’s observation is that while money, health care, and safety are important factors that contribute to one’s happiness, once these needs are met, we need something closer to our hearts, such as passion, purpose, and altruism to make our happiness complete.
This philosophy can be summed by an equation that Simon came up with, "Happiness is equal to service to others divided by focus on self.” We become happier when we focus less on ourselves and more on others.
At Happiness Initiative, there are three ways to put this equation into action. Firstly, the organisation aims to raise awareness on the science of happiness and the actions people can take to improve their well-being.
Secondly, they promote local research around happiness and well-being, and contextualise the findings. The region’s first Happiness Conference (https://happinessconference.asia) is one such platform.
Thirdly, they engage the community to share the science and practice of happiness and well-being.
In an uncertain, often self-centred world, there is no better time than now, to focus on equipping our students with well-being skills. Students equipped with these well-being skills will not only be inoculated against the rising mental health conditions, they will grow up to be of service to something bigger than themselves.
To Simon and Sherman, this is the purpose of education.
To find out more of what they do, check out their website at https://happinessinitiative.sg
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