Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Less Stressful Life vs Retaining the Drive

It is a belief that the achievement of economic success must come with a certain amount of sacrifices and stress. In my opinion, the enjoyment of a less stressful life will in no way controvert our drive to succeed. It is a fallacy that the more stressful our lives, the more motivated we will be. To spur ordinary Singaporeans on to the achievement of national goals and economic prosperity necessitates the resolution of the competing goals and inordinate pressures which they face. A less stressful life in this sense would in effect be a strong motivating factor. I will begin this discussion by dealing with what constitutes stress and how stress could be alleviated.

What is ‘stress’?

In psychological terms, stress is a state of emotional tension or pressure caused by unresolved mental conflicts of the individual, social attitudes and situational problems, i.e. a difficult situation or danger. For the purpose of discussion, I will concentrate on how social attitudes and situational problems could create stress.

Social Attitudes, Situational Problems and Stress

For the individual Singaporean, the parameters of success are often couched in materialistic terms, i.e. how much one earns, the position / rank one has in an organisation and the type of accommodation one has. The individual is thus compelled to be competitive and single-minded in his / her pursuit of the materialistic goals. The desire for instant gratification of these materialistic goals and the constant competition to be the best creates an unhealthy sense of stress, particularly among the younger generation.

The narrow definition of success as the achievement of material wealth or well-being put enormous strain on the individuals by neglecting their emotional and social needs. The single-minded drive to attain economic wealth forces the individual to put in longer hours at work instead of spending the time on recreation or with the family and friends. As a result, an individual’s emotional and social development will take secondary priority.

This state of affairs – the focus on acquisition of economic wealth - was accepted in the early years of nation-building since the building of economic prosperity and the satisfaction of material wants were a matter of urgency and importance. Today, the attitudes of some younger Singaporeans may differ as they may not unquestioningly accept the absolute focus on work and competition. This is in line with Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of needs which postulates that the individual first satisfies the basic needs like shelter and food before striving to achieve other goals like social and affiliative needs. Singaporeans have attained a certain measure of economic prosperity and many are no longer fixated on achieving material goals. What is important for many Singaporeans today is their social and affiliative needs like the cultivation of relationships and friendships. Society’s narrow definition of success therefore places tension on the individual who is torn between the competing goals of balancing work, personal developmental goals and social life.

From a wider perspective, another cause of stress is the “sense of crisis” that is a constituent of our national psyche. Our history, leaders and our education have ingrained into us the vulnerabilities of our nation and the need for us to be economically competitive and vigilant. Thus, Singaporeans who want to take a step back and concentrate on the need to pursue goals other than materialistic ones, would seem to put our nation’s interest and economic success in jeopardy. This constant drive to be “Number One” and to be on guard against any challenge to our economic prosperity, creates pressures and stress for Singaporeans.

How could stress be alleviated?

The inordinate amount of stress faced by an individual may be a demotivating factor. It is fallacious therefore to make the claim that an individual performs at his / her best when subjected to stress and competing goals. To sharpen our competitive edge and increase motivation, the undue stress which Singaporeans face in the course of their daily lives should be addressed.

Firstly, success must be redefined and its definition widened beyond materialistic goals to include social and personal developmental goals. Give due recognition to individuals who have contributed to society or have outstanding performance in any areas of their lives, whether it is material or otherwise.

Secondly, the competing demands of work and social needs of the individual must be resolved. A more holistic view of the factors that motivates the individual must be taken. It is no longer the satisfaction or attainment of material wealth that motivates us, due importance must be placed on a balanced lifestyle which satisfies both our material and social needs. In this regard, the social clubs or companies could organise social activities that fulfils the affiliative and developmental needs of the individual. An emotionally fulfilled and satisfied individual will also be a more productive worker.

Thirdly, there is a need to reconcile the nation’s economic needs and survival to Singaporeans’ personal goals. We must see that the needs of the nation is not an additional burden placed on us by podium pounding politicians and bureaucrats out to hyperbolise the situation. The ongoing program of national education hopefully will ingrain in present post-war generations the importance of retaining the drive to our nation’s economic survival. Therefore the individual will see the national needs as a competing demand.
Submitted by guest blogger - WoeiCherng

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