Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are You Happy?

I've just finished reading Hector & The Search for Happiness, an engaging story of a psychiatrist who was searching for... happiness. More precisely, he was looking for rules of happiness.

He discovered many different rules, and each one has its own ring of truth around it. It's not meant to be heavy, but sometimes we all need a little nudge to make us realize what makes us really happy in life.

I like it that his first rule is "Making comparisons can spoil your happiness". That, to me, is the problem with a lot of people, including myself. While making comparisons allow us to innovate and create and generally improve ourselves, at the end of the day, does it really make us happy?

Anyway, I wish to highlight an important conversation Hector had with another expert on happiness. Apparently, there's a simple way to "measure" your level of happiness. Just ask yourself these three questions (I'm paraphrasing...):

1. Where are you now as compared to how you see yourself should be?
2. How are you now and how were you in your best moment in your past?
3. What do you have now and what would you like to have in the future? (I'm not sure this is what they have in the book, but it kinda make sense)

The gap in your answers practically shows how happy you are presently.

If for example, at this moment you're an up-and-coming executive, and that's how you imagined life would be, then the gap is virtually non-present, making you at least happy in one aspect of your life. But if you're single, but you imagine you'd be married by now, then definitely it will cause some measure of unhappiness.

The 2nd question is a little bit different. Closing the gap is pretty good (meaning that you're as happy now as you were when you were happiest before) but it would be great if your present self is far happier than your previous self ever was.

My only problem is closing the gap of what I have now and what I want in the future. Being too ambitious is a double-edge sword in that you seldom feel satisfied with what you have, even though what you have is beyond your expectation. I've gotta be mindful of that.

In any case, I am blessed, and if I were to die today, I wouldn't have much regret. Can you say the same?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Transporting WHO for WHAT?

Another massive jam today. And another fuel price hike. At this point in time, I would be slaughtered if I suggested that we may be wasting RM 40 billion in the next 5 years developing the MRT.

It's funny how many people talk about having an efficient public transport system as the priority for Malaysia to become a developed nation. No doubt, being stuck in a jam is no joke. I, for one, am extremely agitated in a gridlock. I'm the type of person who'd rather be driving for 1 hour to get to point B than be stuck in a crawl for 30 minutes heading to the same place.

So let me begin by saying that I am NOT against having a better public transport system. It's just I am extremely annoyed to see the general public being sucked into a simple answer when asked what they'd want from the Government: "Better public transport". For me, this is such a lazy answer.

First, someone has to explain to me the DIRECT correlation between having an efficient public transportation system and economic growth leading to developed nation status. Is it a case of being a developed nation BECAUSE you have an efficient public transport system OR you have an efficient system BECAUSE you're a developed nation? There is a marked difference between the two, and I suspect the truth is there are more pressing issues that requires our focus and limited resources to become a developed nation than building an underground tunnel.

Beijing, Moscow, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Sao Paulo are all cities that are ranked far worse than us Malaysia (we don't even get a mention, and I'll with this later), and yet all (with the exception of LA), experience economic growth far greater than ours (in sum, not as a percentage growth) in the last few years than us.

Secondly, I think it's pretty selfish to assume that if KL is less congested, our whole nation's economy would prosper. Malaysia is not Singapore because we are NOT Singapore. Linking up Kuala Lumpur like it's Singapore may be great for some of us, but what about the rest of the country? To achieve developed nation status or economic growth requires the participation of every segment of our society to move up the value chain, from those staying in Kota Damansara all the way to those growing up in Segi Tiga Jengka. How does this RM 40 billion budgeted help my Kuala Lipis graduates?

Thirdly, what is the actual impact of this MRT project? I mean, think about it. Okay, we all get to go to work faster, presumably on the pretext that the MRT line would accommodate for the increase in urban population and number of vehicles on the road and actually ease overall congestion (I think it will, but not to the extent that you think it will). So? Do office hours actually increase? The vast majority of people using the MRT would still, as a measure of productivity, work 8 hours a day.

Yes, they'll go a bit later to work, and probably get back earlier. For what? Watch more TV? Spend more time hanging out with friends? Having dinner with the family? Good. I think these are great benefits. But are they really all we could expect? Can someone show me the link between having such transport system and an increase in productivity? I suspect that any time saved would be spent on other things NOT related to work. Beneficial in some way to our nation no doubt, but is it the kind of benefits that we look for when we spend RM 40 billion?

And does the job scope or type of work that people do change because of the way they are transported? Does it make our workforce brighter and smarter? Would it spur innovation and creativity? Would it create new self-sustaining industries that could compete globally? I think it won't. It just makes the job of transporting the current workforce, with their current mentality and skills, faster. But it doesn't change the nature of our endeavors.

Let's not forget the increase in land value of the areas surrounding MRT routes, which benefits property developers, spurring even more development in those areas, but at a price far inflated for the average people using the MRT to actually afford without running huge debts.

Finally, how bad is the situation in KL? Please, I've worked in KL before for more than a year, as a regular executive. I know about the whole morning jam (heck, I was from USJ!) and how the evening traffic can be a killer. How expensive it is to find parking and pay for toll. But the reality is that I was once stuck for 3 hours in a WEEKEND crawl in Jakarta. Traffic in Bangkok ain't much better. And on some weekends, it wasn't that smooth sailing in Singapore either. In other words, are we really focusing on the real issue here, or is this just another typical simplistic Malaysia-style band-aid solution to avoid confronting real issues with real solutions.

Like maybe spending money for 5 years to create truly world class universities? Or allocating funds in easy loan program for entrepreneurs to kick start their business, especially in high-value, high-multiplier economic activities? Or ACTUALLY allocating more funds for R&D by local labs? Or can you actually do all these, and still have some spare change to implement non-intrusive, low-capital traffic solutions LIKE:

1. Spreading development from KL to its outskirts therefore spreading traffic concentration
2. Re-look into single school system (Example: 9.30 am - 3.30 pm)
3. Strict town planning and permit approval for new developments

I'm sure there's more but I'm lazy to think too much about it. The Government and the rest of the Rakyat shouldn't be. Remember, HOW you transport is only part of the equation. There's always the WHO and WHAT.

Have fun guys!