Housing and Happiness

Housing and Happiness

Enshrined in the second sentence of the United States' Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" , the pursuit of happiness is one of the ultimate grails in life.

Yet we found that there was hardly anything that looked into how a property can affect our life happiness. We thus took it upon ourselves to conduct an investigation into how your choice of housing can affect your level of happiness in life. We scoured many resources on happiness and found several common themes. We filtered out the factors that relate to choice of housing and we hope this article would help readers out a little when making their housing choices.

The following are the factors we have chosen to emphasize:

  • Short commute time
  • Time spent with family and friends
  • Amount of living space
  • Being yourself

We hope our readers will find this article useful and be able to make a good property/housing choice which balances their budget, needs and most importantly, happiness.

Slash your commute time / Move closer to work

Basically, if you spend two hours commuting daily, you are spending 1/8 of your waking time (2 hours out of 16 waking hours) on something I am sure 90% of the population dislikes. Make this a daily routine for 5 days out of a week, 246 days a year and that is some really serious time that could probably be better utilized. Whether you are a blue or white collared employee or a high level company executive or you run your own business, try to get a place near to your workplace!

With a shorter commute, you can do more activities before and after work. You could exercise more. You would arrive at work fresher.  You get to spend more time with your family and friends outside of working hours. You get more rest. The benefits (both tangible and intangible) are immense.

In Singapore, this factor might be less crucial as the compact land geography and the (comparatively) excellent roads and public transport infrastructure ensures that the journey times of the average commuter (door to door) is less than an hour.

For people who drive, they do get to their destinations faster (most of the time). However, there is no escaping the fact that until the day we see driverless cars, drivers can’t really do anything much when they are driving except to focus their attention on the roads (it is reckless and illegal to be focusing your attention anywhere else other than the road). Taking up public transport offers the opportunity to do some mundane things such as replying personal emails, doing up a grocery list, catching up on a book and more.

To illustrate how much difference a 20 minutes shorter one way commute can make to your life, consider this scenario:

Mr A and Mr C both take public transport to work. Mr A’s commute time every day is 35 minutes from door to door. Mr C’s commute time every day is 55 minutes door to door. The difference is 20 * 2 = 40 minutes a day. Let’s take the number of working days a year to be 250. That is a huge difference of 166.67 waking hours or 10 full 16-hour days you could be spending better every year. Could you do something with that kind of time? We definitely could.

Basically, less travel time means more time for all the other things that you’d rather be doing, be it reading, exercising, or just spending more time with friends and family. You could even work on starting a personal business with the time you saved! There is one big risk that we can think of though. Jobs can change and workplaces can move. When that happens, are we going to shift along with it? 

Spending time with family and friends 

Number 4 on the top five regrets of the dying list: I wished I had stayed in touch with my friends.

"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

If possible, choose a place that affords you easy accessibility to your family and friends. The ability to spend more time with family and friends is highly co-related to the distance that you have to travel to hang out with them. If your family/relatives all stay in the same town or area, it is very easy to take a 15 minutes trip to pop by their house for a meal or just to enjoy each other’s company.

Change the scenario to one where you have to take a more than 1.5 hour journey to their place and back again, and suddenly the preposition of meeting your friends seems that much less appealing.

Please spend more time with your loved ones and friends! (even if they stay far away)

Amount of Living Space

(For your convenience: 1 sqm = 10.7639 sqft.)

The amount of living space plays a significant role in our daily happiness.

Look at the following pictures of Hong Kong’s infamous 40 sqft apartments. We cannot imagine anyone could be happy being ‘caged’ in such a small space. (Link)

The Hong Kong example above is an extreme example of dense city living.

Consider the other end of the scale where we might a couple staying in a 2153sqft / 200sqm four bedroom opulent penthouse after their children have moved out to form their own families. Will having such a large house really make them happy or matter to them in their everyday lives? Probably not much if the children are not around. 

Bigger houses mean higher energy bills and higher maintenance costs. But bigger houses also may mean more order and calm and more room for a family to grow. So how much is enough living space? For lack of a comparable standard, we took reference from a standard prison cell in the UK. After all, we wouldn’t want to be living worse than prison inmates. These are the standards for a UK prison (Link here):

If you noticed, the prison inmates in the UK actually have it better than your Hong Kong residents staying in cubicle apartments (6.8 sqm vs 3.7 sqm). The 40 sqm one bedder units in Singapore suddenly seem large in comparison.

Is there a correct housing size? Our opinion: Buy just enough for the family you have currently or are planning for. You probably do not need those extra rooms in your house and you are just paying for space you will hardly use. Spend the money on family outings and activities. We can almost guarantee you will get a better return on happiness off that.  

Be happy with what you have / Being yourself

This factor might not be that obvious to property buyers. Almost 90% of the research we have read about happiness have this one common theme that happiness must come from within oneself.

Sounds simple. Yet how many of us are caught in the never ending race for more money, more power and more material possessions? It is easy to fall into the cyclic trap of never being satisfied. As you get more, you want for even more. Your expectations will change to adapt to your increased income. For most, the cycle never ends until death/mortality beckons and only then do they realize that no amount of money or power or material possessions can grant immortality.

There is no point in having the biggest house on the street or most expensively decorated unit along a street if you are struggling to pay off expensive monthly mortgages. Be yourself. Get something that is comfortably within your income and budget. Instead of struggling to pay off your mortgage every month, consider housing that has a comfortable mortgage with a good safety margin that enables you to spend more financial resources on the activities that you love or on the people you love. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.” ― Bernard M. Baruch

Referring back to the top five regrets of the dying, number 5 on the list is: I wish I had let myself be happier

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

We would like to stress the importance of not over leveraging in order to get the largest housing you can afford. In fact, we are glad the Singapore government has decided to implement the cooling measures fixing the home loans that buyers can undertake to a smaller percentage of their income.

Money is important as a daily medium of transaction for goods and services. But let it not be the most important thing in your life. Happiness derived from material possessions does not last as long as you think. People adapt really fast. Being happy with yourself is the key to happiness.

Concluding Words

It is difficult to quantify happiness or to put a value on it. The factors we have discussed in this article will make it easier to be happy if you consider them while making housing decisions. Ultimately, happiness still has to come from within one’s self. "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." -- Abraham Lincoln 

Go forth and be happier!

~ ProperSquare Team

Some good resources we came across while doing research on the topic of happiness:






Updated on 06/09/2014
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