My friends and I were talking, and someone made the comment that she wanted a job that pays more. And that got me thinking – do we really need jobs that pay more, or do we just need to live somewhere where you don’t need as much to be just as happy?
Don’t get me wrong – I think Singapore is a great place to live and whenever the people I meet ask me what Singapore is like, I tell them it’s a wonderful place. It’s a place where the streets are safe, even at 2 in the morning, where you can get just about any kind of food you want at any hour of the day (or night), where your kids can get an education that is pretty damn good. Things work (most of the time) in Singapore. There aren’t any strikes, or protests, or anything really. Life, for the most part, sails smoothly, if boringly, on.
And when I tell the friends I’ve made here this, the inevitable question always is – then why did you leave? If life in Singapore is so good, why are you here?
Oftentimes, “here” is a place with fewer creature comforts than I may be used to. Life “here” may not be like life in Singapore. Walking alone on the streets is something I try to avoid doing after dark, I haven’t had decent Asian food in ages, and I’m not sure about the education, but let’s just say I haven’t met very many English speakers (that’s not to say that learning English is the hallmark of good education, but it is a very widely spoken language and not ensuring the new generation has a firm grasp of it puts them at a disadvantage, in my opinion). Things exist in a state of near chaos, strikes and protests are a commonplace occurrence, and life sails smoothly on like a ship in a thunderstorm.
Yet, when I look at the people I’m surrounded by, these people who live on next to nothing, I can see their happiness. It emanates from within them. It adds a sparkle to their smile, a twinkle to their eye, a wonderful, rich heartiness to their laugh.
So while I tell people that I’m “here” to see the world, to have new experiences, to meet new people or some variation of the three, perhaps what I’m really doing here is searching for a place where life is rich, but not in the way I’m used to.
Watching people in Singapore, with all their fancy gadgets and shiny toys, it somehow still seems like their lives have been sucked out of them, leaving behind nothing but empty shells. Dead eyes that seem to look right through you, hollow laughs that last a tad too long and end too abruptly, and smiles that never quite seem to reach the eyes. Life in Singapore seems like paradise, but maybe I don’t want a place in paradise.
Thinking about where I come from, and the places I’ve been, slowly I begin to realize, that there is one key difference between us, and them. Despite them having almost nothing at all, they have enough. And us? Despite us having it all, we somehow don’t quite have enough. Maybe enough is where happiness lies. And maybe, all I want is to have enough, and to be happy with enough.
Perhaps, this is something that isn’t unique to Singapore, but I can only draw on my own experiences. I imagine that this happens in many places, especially where people have reached a level of economic development that life becomes more about the accumulation of material goods, rather than enjoying the time we have here with those who mean something to us. Because it is human nature to want, and to want more, and then some more. Human desire is insatiable, but feeding it makes it an greedy demon that starts to demand more and more and eventually comes to dictate our entire lives.
We have nobody but ourselves to blame that our lives have come to be controlled by this demon. We talk about rich people and poor people, rich communities and poor communities, rich countries and poor countries. We place an immense amount of importance on these material goods, the collection of which apparently reflects how rich or poor one is. But beyond a certain level of wealth, “richness” should not be measured in the number of cars, houses or electronic gadgets one has. And I have seen this with my own eyes – that one doesn’t need things to be rich; richness comes from something intangible. Richness comes from having caring friends and family around you. Richness comes from being able to laugh freely. Richness comes from being able to sleep peacefully at night. And that’s why, at the end of the day, I think that our friends in “poor”countries may be far richer than us.