"What aspects of your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying?"
This was the open-ended question posed to nearly 19,000 adults across 17 advanced economies from March to May 2021, as part of a study conducted by Pew Research Center, a U.S. think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The study aimed to understand what people value in life, and how much of what gives people satisfaction in their lives is shared across cultures, as opposed to being unique to a given society.
Overall, the study found that family, careers, and material well-being are among the most commonly cited factors for what makes life meaningful, based on all of the respondents worldwide.
Family, occupation, and society most important in Singapore
But what about Singapore?
The most commonly-mentioned theme — aligning with the global trend — was family, with 29 per cent of by respondents bringing it up.
Next up was occupation, at 25 per cent, and then society at 23 per cent.
Material well-being trailed closely behind, with 22 per cent of people mentioning it when talking about what gives their lives meaning.
Some of the least commonly-mentioned topics were retirement (2 per cent), travel (1 per cent), and pets (0 per cent).
Quotes from Singapore respondents
In its interactive report, Pew Research Center also included actual quotes from the respondents in each region.
Here are some choice quotes from what Singapore respondents said in response to the question posed about meaning in life.
Male, 32, on material well-being, stability and quality of life, and occupation and career:
"I mean, I still have a job la I mean so … I’m satisfied to have a job. I still have a job, I think within my job I’m satisfied la, I mean I have no pay cut, I’m satisfied.
If you ask meaningful or not meaningful, I wouldn't say is very meaningful la that’s it. I mean … I’m not so focus[ed] on meaningful, but I’m more focus[ed] on having a, you know, stable income, so I would say I’m satisfied with the stable income at the moment."
Female, 56, on service and civic engagement, and nature and the outdoors:
"Satisfied about like I do a small part in saving the earth, I no use plastic, I try to bring my own bag, so I try to do my small part in saving environment by using no plastic, by bring my own container and cutlery for my food and bring my own bag for groceries shopping."
Male, 69, on friends, community and other relationships, and service and civic engagement:
"Just like being alive, I find… I'm doing [w]hat's possible to … improve and it makes this place better … than I found it. I'm seeking a [life], that you know I will leave this place a better place than I found it. Are you doing the same thing, you sure your toilet cleaner [than] you found it, you should do.
Whenever we need a friend, after we live with the friend, the friend should be a better person than when you first meet them or her or him. That's what I'm saying, so whatever we do you know like if we go to a restaurant, the waitress will be happier and better, the place will be nicer and better, and like if I go to a toilet, if I pee, I make sure it's cleaner than I found it."
Male, 59, on spouses and romantic partners:
"Nothing to share. Every day, day by day, just live on, just live on, work and live on. Nothing, I mean nothing special because I’m not married, I don’t, I’m still single."
Differences between Singapore and other countries
So how did Singaporeans' answers compare with the answers of people in other countries?
When it comes to the importance of society in sources of meaning, Pew Research Centre noted:
"Singapore is one of the few societies where society comes up among the top three sources of meaning, with respondents particularly highlighting public safety, security and the government’s successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic."
The only respondents who brought up society more commonly than people in Singapore were those in Taiwan. Society was the top source of meaning there, with a whopping 38 per cent mentioning it.
On the topic of freedom, however, Singapore was at the lowest end out of all of the societies; freedom was mentioned by only 5 per cent of respondents. The United Kingdom had a similar response rate.
Singapore similarly sat at the lower end for health, hobbies, and nature, in terms of the percentage of respondents who brought up those sources when talking about what gives them meaning in life.
Whereas 48 per cent of respondents in Spain spoke about health, a mere 8 per cent of Singapore respondents did.
Hobbies also seem much more important to people in the UK (22 per cent) than people in Singapore (4 per cent).
And while only 2 per cent of respondents in Singapore mentioned nature, respondents in New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden brought it up more often, at 12 per cent, 10 per cent, and 10 per cent, respectively.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photo from Facebook / Ministry of Manpower.