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18 Nov 2021


Pair of hands holding on to a smiley face

Singaporeans are overworked and fatigued.


That’s according to a recent study that shows Singapore is the second most overworked city in 2020, just after Hong Kong. We also top the charts of the world’s most fatigued countries, keeping with our mentality of always striving to be number one.


That is why ‘work-life balance’ is a phrase that is often positioned as something elusive – something that we are constantly reaching towards but hard to obtain thanks to our work-obsessed culture.


However, did you know that just a few years ago, Singapore was featured by National Geographic as one of the happiest places in the world?


Yes, that’s right. Singapore ranked highly in “evaluative happiness”, which is the “life satisfaction” aspect of happiness. This is measured by getting people to rate their lives on a scale of 0 to 10.


This brand of happiness is epitomised by the quintessential Singaporean formula for “success” or “happiness”, which is possessing the ‘5Cs’. But no matter the version of the 5Cs we are familiar with, it inevitably leads to a combination of being successful at work, having material possessions like a nice house and car, and a conventional family unit.


But happiness is something everyone feels in a different way.


Another of the ‘happiest places in the world’, Denmark, represents another aspect of happiness – “eudaimonic happiness”. This is achieved through the meaningful experiences of a purpose-driven life. In fact, the philosopher Aristotle touted this concept as the highest form of happiness, true happiness that comes from a life of meaning.


In a poll by Gallup, Singapore scored extremely low in the ‘purpose’ category of well-being.

Only 17 percent of Singaporeans think they have a clear purpose in life.

People who score high in the ‘purpose’ category truly enjoy what they do and are highly motivated to accomplish their goals. Be it working in an office, being self-employed, a stay-at-home parent or doing volunteer work, they are highly engaged and emotionally invested.


So, which aspect of happiness should you strive for - evaluative or eudaimonic happiness?


Why not both? While we are constantly pursuing work-life balance, perhaps what we should be doing is working towards integrating both work and life into one. And it starts with finding your purpose in life.


Here are two concepts that can inspire you:

Find Your Ikigai

From “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia

Ikigai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) has many translations, for example “purpose in life”, “reason for being” or “the happiness of always being busy”.


Essentially, ikigai is the reason why you jump out of bed each morning.


But it goes beyond finding your passion. Ikigai lies between the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at, with what you can get paid for and what the world needs.

Ikigai diagram

How do you find your ikigai? First, you need to look within yourself.


Start by making four lists (one of each of the 4 main elements of ikigai):

  1. What you love
  2. What you are good at
  3. What you can be paid for
  4. What the world needs

List down as many things as possible. Are there any similarities between the elements? If you managed to find a sweet spot where these areas overlap, congratulations - you have found your ikigai.


Ikigai requires action on your part. Here is a list of verbs that can help you further refine your ikigai:

  • To build
  • To connect
  • To create
  • To design
  • To help
  • To inspire
  • To learn

so on…


It can be a combination of a few verbs, but most importantly it must resonate strongly with you.


For most of us, we will struggle to find something that fits squarely in the middle at the beginning. Chances are, what we currently do for a living has nothing to do with what we love. You also might be wondering how you can justify dropping everything else to pursue your ikigai, given all the responsibilities on your plate.


In his TED Talk on how to ikigai , Tim Tamashiro suggested that we could start part-time ikigai.


Part-time ikigai

5-9am - job - 5-9pm


Use the time after work to start doing what you truly love, what you’re good at. Over time, it opens that opportunity to transfer part-time ikigai into full-time ikigai.


It is almost impossible to find your ikigai overnight. This is an understanding of our own calling. The Japanese believe in the journey, that the sum of small joys in everyday life will lead to a more fulfilling life.


It seems simple, but it can be difficult. But your ikigai, your life, is worth the work.

So, when you find your ikigai, is there a need to retire? Or is it time to retire the concept of retirement?


The concept of the ‘New Retirementality’ shows us why like ikigai, you should continue doing what you love even past the “retirement age”, at your own pace,  on your own terms.

Adopt a 'New Retirementality'

็Happy Asian elderly carpenter craftsman in carpentry shop wearing work clothes with work safety equipment such as gloves, noise protection equipment and carried a plank get ready to work.

When you’re asked to describe what retirement looks like to you, your answer will likely be something along the lines of not working and pursuing all the things on your bucket list. It is the “golden years” after all, therefore it naturally means to have your “day in the sun” and leave all work behind.


But is that really good for you?


Some studies have shown that retirement has a direct correlation with cognitive decline. An average person’s short-term memory ability begins to decline almost 40% faster upon retirement. When your daily exposure to intellectual challenges decrease, the risk of developing memory loss and dementia begins to increase. Simply put – use your brain or lose it.


Besides, work is so much more than a source of income. It gives us a sense of belonging and purpose and allows us to connect with others. That is why during the pandemic, a lot of us are struggling with working from home. Can we be truly happy if we are alienated from our work community and feel like we are left out of things?


Happiness will come when we give up the mindset of working for a living and begin to work for life instead. Start by considering a “never retire” life philosophy – a New Retirementality:


Keep doing what you love to do – on your terms. If you still enjoy work, continue doing it. But decide when and where you want to do it. You can even think about a new career down the road as the world needs your experience and knowledge. Using your skills to help others can also benefit you.


Get past “busy”. Do not do things for the sake of keeping yourself occupied. You should choose to be busy with a purpose. Figure out what is valuable to you and find a way to make it a core part of your life.


Find the right balance. You should not swing from the extreme of all work and no play, to all play no work – seek the right balance between vacation and vocation. Take mini- sabbaticals in between work to recharge, reboot and refocus.


Take the Vitamin Cs of ageing healthily.

  1. Connectivity: Stay connected to the people who bring out the best in you, and vice versa.
  2. Challenge: Challenge yourself intellectually and physically on regular basis.
  3. Creativity: Engage in pursuits that drive your creativity
  4. Charity: Do things that will benefit the wider community
  5. Curiosity: Be curious and continuously learn

If you do this right, you can enjoy every day of your life without setting a time to “retire”.

Bhutan, often heralded as the world’s happiest country, has a Gross National Happiness (GNH) Commission to ensure the happiness and well-being of its people.


And to them happiness is not an end goal, it is the pursuit of happiness that leads to one feeling fulfilled, and that provides contentment along with a sense of joy.


Sounds familiar?


So ask yourself if you are sleepwalking through life. Are you going through the motions, moving forward akin to running on a hamster wheel just because it is expected of you?


If so, take a step back and reflect. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. This will take you closer to what you truly love and what you should pursue in your life.


Because if you find your purpose, it will make you jump out of bed every morning, feeling excited to start each day.