By Geoff Tan

Since Ms Sylvia Lim’s (Aljunied GRC) speech in parliament on the 19th of October regarding the happiness of Singaporeans, there have been much debate across both online and offline platforms on the relevance of this linked to a more holistic approach of how we can better measure our country’s development. I am sure awareness for the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has since escalated after it was brought up as the prevailing benchmark – Buutan has an indicator called Gross National Happiness (GNH), which measures the mental well-being of citizens and not their material wealth.

In a highly affluent nation such as Singapore, we are accustomed to talking about material wealth in our conversations. Where do you live? What car do you drive? What brands do you like? Where have you been for your holidays this year? Which company do you work for? How much do you earn? Where do you play your golf? Which clubs are you a member of? Which restaurants do you frequent? What wines do you invest in? What concerts have you been to lately?

Recently a client of mine sent me email describing a place just 30 kilometres from Cambodia’s world famous Angkor temples. Tucked away from foreign eyes on the outskirts of Siem Reap is a community of about 500 people who live – or survive – in a rubbish dump. The story goes on to say that Spanish photojournalist Omar Havana spent seven months from October 2010 to April 2011 getting to know the people at the dump and documenting their lives. He has since shared his photos and stories with ABC News Online.

If you are interested enough to go online to look at these photos, you will see children rummaging through rubbish; families living and bringing up their kids amidst a sea of garbage; others sieving through swill to see what they can salvage for a meal. There is even a photo of a boy holding up what looks like a packet of discarded blood which was going to be his meal for the day.

Mr Havana went on to say that what he noticed in that community was that the people looked happy. Many of his photos depicted genuine smiling faces and warm spirits. The first thing that struck me was to ask myself how could this be possible having seen the situation these folks are in.

Outwardly, we Singaporeans seem like a privileged lot but it does seem that there is so much these Cambodian people can teach us. Singaporeans to an extent are a complaining lot. Even when we have a comfortable roof over our heads, good schools for our kids, decent jobs, the comforts of life etc, many of us don’t seem to be completely satisfied! In a New Paper blog piece, the writer shares “All those in the sales and service industries know that Singaporeans are a complaining lot. They usually complain about “poor” services not so much to see improvement in services but hoping to get some form of compensation in return.”

This Cambodian community living in the rubbish dump has much to teach us. If these folks can exude such joy and happiness in spite of the situation they are in, we perhaps need to reassess our priorities and be more thankful for the blessings that have been poured upon us and our nation!