Sunday 19 May 2024
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SO it’s true — Klang Valley folks are less happy living in the city compared with those living in Penang and Johor Bahru. That is according to Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey.

The survey showed that as many as 49% of respondents in the Klang Valley found city life merely “tolerable” while another 9% and 3% were unhappy and very unhappy, respectively.

That’s hardly surprising, but what will probably make us sit up more is that only 3% of Penang and Johor Bahru respondents were unhappy/very unhappy living in their respective cities.

Penang seems to have gotten the happiness formula right as 47% of respondents from the state said they were very happy while another 30% said they were happy. As for Johor Bahru, about 24% of respondents from there were very happy and 37% were happy.

Why are Penang and Johor Bahru folks so much happier than those in the Klang Valley?

Could it be something in the air? Or could it be that they are living in a less stressful environment? Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey found that 54% of Klang Valley respondents felt stressed out living in the city compared with only 7% and 17% Penang and Johor Bahru respondents, respectively.

“Generally, people living in urban areas especially big cities such as Kuala Lumpur face a lot of stress. Stress could come from dealing with traffic congestion, higher cost of living, and demanding jobs and workplaces,” says Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) secretary-general Datin Ang Kim Teng.

Ang tells that stress is essential to keep one moving forward, but too much stress can lead to mental illness.

Citing a survey carried out by the Ministry of Health in 2015, she points out that 39.8% of KL folks have different levels of mental illness, such as stress, anxiety and depression. The figure was lower in Penang and Johor Bahru, at 19.1% and 22.2%, respectively.

“The findings of the ministry’s study and Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey correlate, although the latter mentions stress but not mental illness. However, as Ang said, if you are not handling stress carefully, it will slowly transform into mental illness,” says MMHA president See Cheng Siang.

See says stress may also come from loneliness and the lack of an extensive family support, especially for those who are not originally from KL.

“KL is a migrant city — many people came here to further their studies and work. Most of them have to depend on themselves without the mental and emotional support of their families,” he shares.

Ang also adds that many people choose to face their stress-related problems on their own rather than seek help because of the stigma attached to mental illness.

“There are many reasons for the number of people suffering from serious stress problems and mental illness. I think one crucial problem is that Asians still view seeking help from psychiatrists or even counsellors as a stigma,” says Ang.

She stresses that mental illness is just like any other physical illness such as fever and flu. “You will go to a doctor if you feel feverish and your throat is sore, but why wouldn’t you go to a professional if you are mentally sick?” Besides seeking professional help, other options that Ang and See suggest to de-stress are balancing out the time for work and leisure, talking to people and enjoying nature.

“It is proven that greenery will help you relax. However, I would not say KL people are stressed out because we do not have enough green spaces.

“Green spaces can help people de-stress only if people use them. Many people in the city would rather go indoors in their leisure time,” See points out.

Environmental concerns

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM) chairman Gurmit Singh wholly agrees with See.

“Look at the park in front,” says Gurmit, pointing at the park near CETDEM’s office in SS2, Petaling Jaya. “We have the park but we hardly have people using them. Do you think we really need more green spaces when the existing ones are not even fully utilised?”

However, he does not blame the people for not using the parks. “It is not entirely due to the users; it is also because some parks are not user-friendly enough. Many of our parks do not have enough trees to make the place shady and cool enough. They are also not well maintained and pleasant for people to use.”

No doubt, a greener city environment could raise the comfort and happiness levels of those living in the city, Gurmit says, adding that the major cities in Malaysia are still far from their “green” targets.

“It is not only KL, but also Penang and Johor Bahru where the environment is suffering. Our parks are not only underused but also misused as garbage dumping grounds. River and air pollution are also serious problems,” he notes. Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey had revealed that as many as 65% of Klang Valley respondents were concerned about air pollution while 31% were worried over rising noise pollution.

There were similar feelings in Penang and Johor Bahru with 50% and 46% of respondents being concerned about air pollution while 33% and 20% were concerned about noise pollution, respectively.

“While some people blame the authorities for not doing their job well in cleaning and maintaining public places and facilities, the users may not realise that they are also contributing to today’s environmental situation by taking things for granted — for instance, taking for granted that someone will collect the rubbish thrown in the streets or park, or someone will pick up the rubbish floating in the river,” Gurmit says.

He stresses that everyone should be playing their role in building a greener and more liveable city. “It is never one person’s job. Before you blame anyone else, first take a step back and look at yourself — are you one of the ‘contributors’ to today’s situation?” Gurmit believes it is more important to implement citizen education on the concept of green and sustainable environment before the authorities kick-start mega infrastructure projects.

“The government should be the role model and take the lead in adopting green measures. Then the private sector will follow and eventually the citizens will change their mindset,” Gurmit says.

According to Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey, the majority of Klang Valley folks do not think the urban environment will improve in future. Only 22% of Klang Valley respondents expect the city in which they live will be more beautiful while even fewer (15%) believe it will be greener in 10 years. In contrast, 56% of Penang respondents believe Penang will become more beautiful in 10 years and 47% believe it will become greener over the same period, while in Johor Bahru, it was 53% and 41%.

“Building a greener, more liveable city and a happier city life is never the job of solely the government. It can only be achieved, if every citizen sees the importance of improving their current life and change their lifestyle,” says Gurmit. Happiness in the City Index 2017 survey was conducted from April 28 to May 28 covering the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor Bahru. There were 1,273 respondents from Klang Valley, 202 from Johor Bahru and 321 from Penang.

This story first appeared in pullout on July 14, 2017. Download pullout here for free.

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