(Singapore 26 May 2023) Singapore should not be a society chasing up the rankings although there is a tendency of living our life by comparison, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said during a forum at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) today.

He made such remarks during a panel discussion on happiness and sustainability, in front of more than 450 people at the physical session of the SUTD Design Innovation Forum and close to 2000 virtually.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaks at a forum at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) on May 26, 2023. Photo: James Zhang

“Every ranking will have its own set of criteria… some of them, like the per capita GDP and life expectancy, are useful measures,” said the 62-year former Finance Minister, who stepped down as the frontman of Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership two years ago.

However, he stressed that Singapore should not always prove its position by chasing up various rankings, such as that in the World Happiness Report.

“If I am happy for that, there is something wrong with me,” he said while referring to the fact that Singapore has been ranked the 25th happiest country in the world according to the UN’s 2023 World Happiness Report, two spots higher than 2022.

He said when he was Singapore’s education minister from 2011 to 2015, he was told by some primary students who complained that adults — their parents or other family members — always openly compared their children’s academic performance to others.

“If happiness depends on some external judgment by other people, we will forever be unhappy,” he said, noting that what we need is a society where people can do what they truly believe and students are allowed to do what they feel most strongly about.

“Because however smart you are, there is always someone who is smarter, however successful you are, you always have someone who is more successful, however rich you are, there is always someone who is richer. And the richest person will not be the richest person forever, ” he added.

Also in his speech during the panel discussion of the forum “Design For a Sustainable World”, he said there are at least four dimensions to a sustainable economy which include the sustainability in an environmental sense, in the form of our social support and social consensus for what we do, in an economic sense and resilience.

Speakers of 2023 SUTD Design Innovation Forum Photo: SUTD

Today’s SUTD forum was also joined by SUTD President Prof Chong Tow Chong; Prof Nathalie de Vries, Founding Partner of MVRDV; Roxanne Ong, Global Head of Strategy, Innovation and Education, Digital Transformation Office of Shiseido. Its panel discussion was moderated by Prof Tai Lee Siang of SUTD.