April 15, 2019

What does happiness mean to a group of high-flyers, entrepreneurs and celebrities who have seemed to shape their lives around their careers?

While some may think of the sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching a professional milestone, or surpassing their personal best, others may savour the quiet pleasure of venturing within, where solitude and self-reflection make for a richer, more fulfilling existence.

For Hugh MacKay, the author of The Good Life, he reckons we’re approaching the topic of happiness from a completely detrimental angle.

“The idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness,” he writes.

“The good life is not the sum of our security, wealth, status, postcode, career success and levels of happiness. The good life is one defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.”

Take a peek into the personal philosophies of these 10 prominent individuals and find out how they define happiness.


Olga Iserlis, Founder of Twise

“I believe that happiness is sometimes really just a self-imposed state. Only you can make yourself happy. You cannot rely on others for happiness. If you start believing in this notion, you become a happier person. I’ve been through a lot in my life, very, very difficult points. If I don’t go through life with a smile, or with a sense of gratitude, I don’t think I could ever be happy. Every part of my life has given me moments to be happy about.”

Zhang Tingjun, Co-Founder of The Chain Reaction Project

“I can be happy anywhere I am in the world, but I know that I will always come home. I’m actually very proud to be Singaporean and it’s funny how in many phases and facets of my life, I have always carried the Singapore flag: as a netballer or part of Mercy Relief. And as cliché as it sounds, it’s important that Singapore is doing its part to support the countries and people in the region that have also helped to build our nation. We are in a very blessed position where we don’t get hit by natural disasters, so we should do more. This fortune comes with responsibility.”

Cherilyn Tan, Founder and CEO of Asia Law Network

“I took the plunge and exchanged vows with someone totally unexpected. And I’ve never been happier. I found a man who has selflessly taken up my ambitions for his, a man who has consistently and silently been providing me with the added confidence that I need to keep moving.”

Song Ka Yeon, MMA Fighter

“In this world, there are many musicians who can sing very well. But only a few are popular. It is the same for fighters. There are many good fighters, but only some can find an audience to express themselves. I hope that when I am in the cage, people can feel my happiness, like when a dancer goes up on stage. I want people watching it to be happy as well, and realise that it is not just a fight.”

Lisa Von Tang, CEO and Creative Director of Lisa Von Tang

“I’m happy as a default, and I realise that joy is my guiding light—as it should be yours. I don’t say this as a hippy by the way. Even from a strategic business point of view, I see ‘joy’ as being a clarifying elixir for how I choose people, how I decide on our plans going forward, how I design and create.”

Julien Royer, Chef-Owner of Odette

“My grandmother made me realise how much joy and happiness I can give people through our food and hospitality, and my dream was always to have a restaurant. I am living it now and I am really very fortunate because at 34 years old, I have time. My story has only just begun, so who knows what the next step is?”

Cynthia Koh, Actress and Certified Flower Remedy Practitioner

“In February 2017, I became a certified practitioner registered with the Bach Foundation UK. The Bach flower remedies started in the 1930s, and they are vibrational essences that help us to balance our emotional health. The basic theory by Dr Edward Bach claims that diseases are just a warning bell, indicating to us that our emotions are out of balance… It brings me great joy when my clients gain positive changes after using the remedies.”

Esther Wang, Founder of Joytingle

“There have been little moments of joy throughout my journey such as when I discovered that there were 7 aspects to consider before selecting the right screw. Happiness then was finding a hardware store with boxes of screws or being in a shop that sold screws, instead of shoes.”

Kishore Mahbubani, Senior Advisor (University & Global Relations) and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore

“I think when it comes to happiness, all the government can do is to facilitate. The government cannot make people happy. People need to make themselves happy. The government’s role is to step aside as much as possible and let people grow, develop and flourish on their own. At the end of the day, Singaporeans need to find out who they are, and what makes them happy.”

Grace Clapham, Co-Founder of The Change School

“Singapore has been known for having unhappiness, whether in people’s careers or lives… The younger generation is no longer happy with what has worked previously. They want to develop and change their environments to what they want it to be. I would say most people are misaligned with what they do.”

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