Happiness is more than just a smile on your face. It is multidimensional and various aspects of an individual’s life affect whether we are happy in life. So, what makes Malaysians happy and are Malaysians actually living a contented life?
That was the question posed by the Department of Statistics Malaysia in 2021 to 42,446 Malaysians nationwide on their flagship Malaysia Happiness Index (MHI).
Beginning in 2021, the survey is set to be conducted twice within a five-year duration. This is in the hope of providing policymakers with information that could help them to create suitable programmes to improve existing initiatives related to human resources and social development.
The index was developed based on other happiness measurement manuals such as World Happiness Report (WHR), Human Development Index (HDI), OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being, Gross National Happiness (Bhutan GNH) and Happy Planet Index.
The constructed Malaysia Happiness Index consists of 13 components, namely:
- Housing and the environment
- Social participation
- Communication facilities
- Working life
- Public safety
- Time use
- Religion and spirituality
- Emotional exposure
The index scores are categorised as below:
- 8.01 – 10: Very happy
- 6.01 – 8.00: Happy
- 4.01 – 6.00: Moderately happy
- 2.01 – 4.00: Unhappy
- 2.00 and below: Very unhappy
According to the survey, Malaysians are generally happy with an average score of 6.48. The three areas that Malaysians ranked the highest for are:
- Family (7.23)
- Religion and spiritual (7.21)
- Health (6.75)
On the flip side, the three areas Malaysians ranked the lowest for are:
- Emotional experiences (6.15)
- Communication facilities (6.14)
- Income (6.04)
Globally, we ranked 81st out of 149 countries in the world in terms of happiness according to Gallup World Poll’s World Happiness Report 2021. The Gallup Happiness report measures happiness using the life satisfaction, emotional wellbeing of the respondents – how they feel about their lives could affect their happiness. At the core of the survey is the life evaluation aspect. This is where respondents measure their life on a Cantril ladder, 10 being the best possible life and 0 being the worst possible life.
However, our global average score is at 5.384, lower than the national average as shown by MHI. The MHI defines “happiness as is a multi-dimensional concept that refers to satisfaction, feeling of happiness, pleasure of life and well-being of various aspects of an individual’s life from a physical, social, emotional and spiritual point of view.”
Labuan: The Happiest State In Malaysia
The Federal Territory of Labuan was crowned the happiest state in Malaysia, recording the highest Happiness Index score of 9.29, at the Very Happy Level.
The surveyed population is very happy due to several factors:
- Time use (9.92)
- Family (9.91)
- Religion and spiritual (9.83)
- Public safety (9.74)
- Communication facilities (9.64)
- Housing and environment (9.61)
- Working life (9.50)
- Health (9.49)
- Social participation (9.34)
- Culture (9.18)
- Income (8.96)
- Education (8.01)
Only one component that was registered as Happy:
- Emotional experience (7.58)
How Happy Are Other Malaysian States?
The federal territories in Malaysia; Labuan, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya are the three happiest states in Malaysia, followed by Terengganu and Kelantan on the East Coast of the peninsular.
On the other end of the spectrum, Melaka and Selangor ranked the lowest on the Happiness Index Ranking with an average index of 5.85 and 5.74 respectively.
|State||Happiness Index Rank|
On the other end of the spectrum, both Malacca and the developed Selangor ranked at the bottom two, with an average index of 5.85 and 5.74 respectively.
Do Higher Incomes Lead To Happier People?
Some may believe that materialistic gains such as money and wealth are the key factors in unlocking happiness.
The average Malaysian population is happy with their income with a score of 6.04. However, in comparison to other components, income is at the bottom of the list.
The income component measures the satisfaction or happiness gained from:
- Income from the main job
- Income from additional job
- Income earned commensurate with the cost of living
- Salary/wage paid commensurate with the cost of living
- Debt burden
The findings of MHI corroborated with the median income and expenditure of each state paint a clearer picture.
|State||Median Income (per month in 2019)||Median Expenditure (per month in 2019)||Happiness Index (Income)|
|Kuala Lumpur||RM10,549||RM5,692 (54.0%)||7.1|
|Pulau Pinang||RM6,169||RM3,793 (61.5%)||6.4|
|Johor||RM6,427||RM4,025 ( 62.6%||6.2|
|Negeri Sembilan||RM5,005||RM3,712 (74.2%)||6.06|
|Selangor||RM8,210||RM 4,709 (57.4)||5.51|
|Melaka||RM 6,054||RM 4,955 (81.8%)||5.07|
The state that is Very Happy in the income component, Labuan, arguably has a high median income per household. Despite being one of the states with a high median income, the states of Melaka and Selangor are only moderately happy.
Skimming through the household expenditure rate, we notice that Melaka spends at least 81.8% of its income monthly. Another state with a high expenditure rate is Negeri Sembilan, with at least 74.2% of its income channelled to expenditures. Meanwhile, Labuan, which is at the top of the chart, accounted for 52.8% of household expenditures.
Family, On Top Of The List For Most Malaysians
The family component, recorded the highest index score which was 7.23. This component examines:
- Family relationship
- Family financial stability
- Family safety
|State||Happiness Index (Family)|
Arguably, Malaysia remains a society that is collectivistic in nature and prides itself on strong familial bonds. Collectivist culture is when a community focuses on the group’s needs by working together as opposed to focusing on individual needs.
In the family component, every state registered a score of 6 and above, with Labuan, Kuala Lumpur, and Pahang on the brink of scoring ‘Very Happy’ when it comes to their family relationships.
Religion And Spirituality
Malaysians are generally happy about being able to practise their spiritual and religious beliefs. The particular component was the second highest at 7.21 and measured the following indicators:
- Spiritual/ religious practice
- Spiritual/ religious activities with the community
- Respect for the diversity of spiritual/ religious practices of other communities
|State||Happiness Index (Religion and Spirituality)|
Across the board, all states in Malaysia are happy in terms of religious and spiritual practices in Malaysia. Three states, however, were ‘Very Happy’; these are Labuan, Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu.
Health Breeds Happiness
The health component is one of the top three highest indexes reported by Malaysians at 6.75.
The component observed a whole range of indicators that sum up the accessibility, and affordability of healthcare populations are receiving:
- Level of health
- Government health services
- Medical treatment by government health services
- Rate of payment of government services
- Supply of medicine provided (government)
- Private health services
- Medical treatment by private health services
- Supply of medicine provided (private)
- Rate of payment of private services
|State||Happiness Index (Health)|
Most states in Malaysia are happy with the affordability and access to healthcare in Malaysia. Only the state of Selangor, however, is moderately happy with the current state of health care in the nation.
Time Use: Making Every Minute Count
There are 24 hours in a day, and the time use component examines whether Malaysians are generally happy with the way their time has been compartmentalised. The indicators are:
- Rest time (me-time)
- Adequate sleep time
- Time for leisure and recreation
- Time for social
|State||Happiness Index (Time Use)|
The surveyed population generally reported being ‘Moderately Happy’ with their time.
Social Participation: Being Part Of A Harmonious Community
Malaysians on average rated how their happiness level is affected if they are part of the local community at 6.46. The social participation component examines the following:
- Social support from the community
- Neighbourhood relationship
- Social activities
|State||Happiness Index (Social Participation)|
Generally, Malaysians are happy with their current society and environment, with Labuan once again showing that they are ‘Very Happy’ with their social participation. Next on the list is the northern state of Perlis at 7.41. However, citizens in the states of Selangor and Melaka are only moderately happy with their current environment.
Housing And Environment: Having A Roof Over Our Heads
Malaysians are generally happy with their current housing and environment with an average of 6.39. The housing and environment component of MHI examines whether Malaysians are happy with;
- The facilities and infrastructures provided in their living environment
- Level of cleanliness in their living environment
- Pollution in the living environment
- Rental payment of residence
|State||Happiness Index (Housing and Environment)|
The two states that recorded below 6.0 on the scale are Melaka and Selangor, indicating that the populations are moderately happy with their housing and environment.
A working adult spends at least 8 hours a day toiling away in the office or on the field. The working life component measures;
- Work life balance
- Relationship with employer
- Relationship with colleagues
- Right to speak
- Career advancement
- Benefits of employment
|State||Happiness Index (Working Life)|
On average, Malaysians are generally happy with their current working life. However, Selangor and Melaka recorded a moderately happy sentiment in their work-life.
On average, Malaysians are happy with the education provided in the nation at a score of 6.30. The education component uncovers the perceived quality, accessibility and affordability of the education system.
- Quality of educational delivery and the outcome:
- System in public educational institutions
- System in private educational institutions
- Online learning
- Level of security in educational institutions
- Opportunity to enter higher educational institutions
- Financing the services of higher educational institutions
|State||Happiness Index (Education)|
Three states are moderately happy with the current education system, these are Melaka, Sabah and Selangor at 5.89, 5.83 and 5.64. The rest reported that they are happy with the quality, accessibility and affordability of the education system in Malaysia.
One of the components that measure whether Malaysians feel secure in their houses is public safety. With the indicators examining;
- Level of security in your residence
- Security services
- Payment of security services
- Foreign security guards in the area of residence
|State||Happiness Index (Public Safety)|
The states that are happy with the level of public safety with a higher bound, in their area include the East Coast states of Malaysia; Terengganu (7.91) and Kelantan (7.5). At the same time, two Federal Territories; Kuala Lumpur (7.69) and Putrajaya (7.34). The lowest on the list is the state of Selangor at 5.35, only moderately happy with public safety.
Continuity of Culture And Arts
The particular component is among the few that are lowest rated by Malaysians at 6.20. The cultural aspect only includes one indicator:
- Involvement in arts and cultural activities
|State||Happiness Index (Culture)|
Four states were rated “Moderately Happy” on the component. These are Perak, Pulau Pinang, Melaka and Selangor. With the exception of Labuan, the rest of the states are “Happy” with their involvement in cultural experiences.
The component measures the subjective well-being of the surveyed population and whether they are happy to express their emotional experiences. The component adapted the calculation from the well-established Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) to determine the mean positive and negative emotions experienced by Malaysians.
The emotions that were measured are listed below:
- Feel interested
- Strong emotion
- Feel guilty
- Feel worried
|State||Happiness Index (Emotional Experience)|
This was one of the indexes that Labuan or the happiest state in Malaysia recorded a lower score on the scale at 7.58. In general, most residents are happy with their emotional experiences. The exceptions are Kedah, Perak, Melaka and Selangor. On average, they were moderately satisfied with emotional experiences.
The implication of the component suggests that most Malaysians tend to experience positive over negative emotion suggesting that happier populations are more satisfied with their current well-being.
The communication facilities component ranked as one of the lowest rated by Malaysians at 6.14. The indicators of this component are:
- Internet access facilities in residence
- Telecommunication service support is provided at your residence or around your residence
- Telecommunications service fee rates
|State||Happiness Index (Communication Facilities)|
Overall, most states recorded that they were happy with the access and affordability of communication facilities. However, three states; Selangor, Melaka and Sabah are moderately happy with communication facilities. Notably, Sabah has been one of the states that are grappling with issues of limited infrastructure.
Explore our sources:
- Department Of Statistics Malaysia. (2022). Malaysia Happiness Index. Link
- Gallup. (2022). World Happiness Report 2021. Link
- Department Of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Household Income & Basic Amenities Survey Report 2019. Link
- Department Of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Household Expenditure Survey Report 2019. Link