ARE you happy? No, really, are you happy? That's the question a new play by TheatreWorks is trying to get to the bottom of in a city that seems to throw up contradictory answers.
In 2012, Gallup ran a poll that found Singapore to be the least positive country in the world - less so even than poverty-stricken Armenia or conflict-ridden Iraq.
The results were surprising because, from 2000 to 2009, independent studies found higher levels of happiness in Singapore than in any other country in Asia. Many quarters have taken "least positive" to mean "most unhappy".
Could a country change so much within a few years? Or could the survey's methodology simply be flawed, despite Gallup's long-standing reputation?
Amid the debate that followed, theatre director Jeff Chen began to think about what happiness means to Singaporeans. He got together a team of good actors and writers - Jean Ng, Norlinah Mohamed, Peter Sau, Nora Samosir, Loo Zihan and Robin Loon - and created a play titled LIFT: Love Is Flower The.
From self-help books to career advancement to money, money, money, many of the things and paths that supposedly lead one to happiness were probed. The collaborators found the issue to be so complex and emotive that they could rarely arrive at neat conclusions.
Chen says: "While it appears that our generation is more well-off materially than previous generations, we don't seem to be necessarily happier with our modern lifestyles."
During the debate that followed the Gallup poll, comparisons were made between Singapore and Bhutan, the small kingdom in the Himalayas that carefully guards its ancient way of life. Despite its low gross national product (GNP), Bhutan consistently ranks as one of the world's happiest countries, having long adopted the idea of gross national happiness (GNH) over GNP as a measure of the country's development instead.
Chen says: "Bhutan puts forth the possibility that people can be happier if their lives were simpler . . . In contrast, Singapore feels rife with conflict bubbling beneath the surface. So many issues such as transport, housing or income gap get people up in arms."
Cast member Norlinah could relate to that. Before she became a full-time actress in 1998, she was a marketing/PR executive in a boutique firm.
She recalls: "Within just one year in that PR company, I was given two promotions. My salary jumped by a thousand dollars, which - adjusted for inflation - was a lot at that time. But I found that my happiness was increasingly dictated by how much money I earned - and that really disturbed me.
"When I became a full-time arts practitioner, I made much less money. But I have no regrets . . . So that's one of the issues that the play attempts to explore - the correlation between money and happiness."
LIFT: Love Is Flower The runs from Sept 17 to 21 at 8pm at TheatreWorks, 72-13 Mohammed Sultan Road, Singapore 239007. Tickets from $18 to $30 can be purchased by calling 6737-7213 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org