Mental health key to the nation's happiness, say experts

Malaysia is well-positioned to improve its ranking in the World Happiness Report.

10 Apr 2024 11:00am
Malaysians’ concern about their mental health since the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to be among the factors affecting Malaysia’s position in the World Happiness Report. Photo for illustrative purposes only - Canva
Malaysians’ concern about their mental health since the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to be among the factors affecting Malaysia’s position in the World Happiness Report. Photo for illustrative purposes only - Canva

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysians’ concern about their mental health since the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to be among the factors affecting Malaysia’s position in the World Happiness Report (WHR) 2024.

Others include the current political discourse and social issues affecting the nation, according to senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)’s Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Health Programme, Assoc Prof Dr Shazli Ezzat Ghazali.

He said several key issues dominate Malaysia’s political discourse, and they include economic development as the government strives to maintain robust growth and address income inequality.

On a happy note, Malaysia is well-positioned to improve its ranking in the World Happiness Report, he told Bernama.

This, he said, is reflected in the government’s focus and initiatives that are geared towards economic development, providing quality education, better infrastructure as well as efficient and improved social amenities.

"However, the challenges remain, with more efforts needed to enhance happiness among Malaysians including increasing public awareness towards mental health, reducing race and religious tensions, bridging socio-economic gap, advancing social justice, empowering the education and health system as well as reducing the negative impact on the environment.

"Intervention is required by empowering the role of psychologists to make the nation and the people happy. Psychologists have the knowledge and skills to help change the people who are stuck in negative emotions and mindset,” he said.

According to the World Happiness Report 2024, Malaysia has dropped four spots to 59th compared to 2023. Singapore ranked 30th while Thailand took the 58th position and the Philippines in 53rd place.

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The 2024 report, which surveyed a total of 143 countries, also placed Malaysia as the eighth happiest nation among Asian countries.

Globally, for the seventh year in a row, Finland ranks as the happiest country in the world, with a score of 7.741, followed by Denmark (second place) and Iceland (third). Afghanistan was at the bottom (143) behind Lebanon, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Congo as well as Zimbabwe.

The World Happiness Report is a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR’s Editorial Board. The report is produced under the editorial control of the WHR Editorial Board.


Happiness, according to Shazli Ezzat, is defined as a state of emotional wellbeing that is related to an incident, together with specific accomplishment.

As an example, passing an examination, married to a loved one, meeting a friend or close friends as well as working with a good employer will make an individual experience contentment, joy and happiness.

"As such, happiness is defined as the feeling of delight or excitement experienced by an individual. It is a positive emotion and provides satisfaction for an individual. Those who are happy experience happiness in an environment or a certain situation,” he added.

Elaborating on positive emotion, the psychologist said it is a vital pulse for an individual as it can have an impact on his or her mental, emotional and physical health, with positive vibes on those close to them, their work and environment.

"Happiness can also be contagious and protect the individual from having negative thoughts and paranoia.

"Happiness helps boost emotional, mental and physical health. Either through a small achievement or happy moments, everyone has the right to experience such moments in life,” he added.

However, he noted, the present living conditions are challenging especially when the nation is reeling from the effects of post COVID-19 pandemic, economic and political conflicts as well as pressures from various external dimensions which generated negative implications on mental health.

"As a result, the indicator becomes negative, triggering stress symptoms, sadness and worries among the people. These in turn would directly affect happiness especially in a situation that can affect an individual’s emotional wellbeing and mental health,” he added.

"In an increasingly complex and uncertain world, pressures from the environment, work demands, personal problems and other factors can also prevent an individual from enduring happiness,

he added.


On mental health, Shazli Ezzat said it is an essential part of people’s lives and society, with mental health conditions expected to increase 10 per cent by 2025.

He cited the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2015, which showed that the prevalence of mental health problems was 29.2 per cent during that year compared to only 11.2 per cent in 2005.

"Taking into account the global COVID-19 pandemic, by next year (2025) the rate is expected to increase to nearly 39.2 per cent if proactive measures are not carried out by the government, community leaders, family members and professionals in the mental health sector,” he added.

Shazli Ezzat said the higher figures can be attributed to various incidents based on recent media reports which highlighted the issues related to mental and emotional disturbance, suicidal behaviour, slitting of baby’s wrist, rape, domestic violence as well as brutal murder and amok.

As such, social aspects should also be given due focus to help individuals achieve happiness among others, the positive support from family members, friends of the same age, employers and the community.

"Giving an opportunity for an individual to reach his or her potential, supporting their interest and talent as well as helping them achieve a meaningful life. These can be realised through education, employment opportunities and instilling happiness among the community,” he said.

In the context of the nation, he said efforts to improve the people’s quality of life in a holistic manner is crucial including empowering the economy, providing good infrastructure, access to quality education and healthcare services, social justice and racial unity.

"Empowering professional assistance such as psychologists and counsellors is also needed to assist those in need of help and emotional support. It can provide positive value added to boost happiness and the wellbeing of the people in a holistic manner,” he added.


According to Frank Martela, a Finnish philosopher and psychology researcher, Finnish people are guided by three components which are their key principles in life.

He said Finns are happy because they have a strong sense of community and relatedness, do good deeds for other people and find a clear purpose for themselves.

Sharing his insights on the issue, Senior Lecturer at UKM’s Centre for Research in Psychology and Human Well-Being, Dr Abdul Rahman Ahmad Badayai said the three components which have become part and parcel of Finnish society, should be emulated.

"These components may vary for every country including Malaysia. It’s not easy to adopt the principles of happiness from other nations.

"However, for Malaysians to embrace these principles, psychological preparedness is key as it is an internal (psychological) reflection of an individual.

"Other contributing factors include a constructive environment and positive social aspects to bring the three components into practice,” he said.

According to him, personal relationships are also crucial for Malaysians to attain optimum happiness.

"It is therefore important to schedule your time with friends and families on a personal and regular level to prevent loneliness. You don’t need to spend hours or the entire night out. For example, just walking for 15 minutes or any interaction is better than nothing at all.

"Even if the individual is an introvert, it is very important for him or her to be actively involved in social activities and foster cordial relationship with other people,” he added.

He also stressed on the importance of strong social bonds which would go a long way to achieving happiness as well as ensuring society of their safety.

"Sharing our personal stories will not only help others to know us, but they also help us to know ourselves. When we listen to their stories, we are transported into another’s life, bridging the gaps between our diverse backgrounds and find common threads that bind us together,” noting that the emotional connection can have a positive impact on mental health.


Abdul Rahman said the strong social connection can significantly influence an individual’s mental health and happiness in life, noting that establishing social relationships with others will help reduce the individual’s anxiety, depression and stress, boost self-esteem, provide comfort, prevent loneliness and help increase life expectancy.

"On the other hand, the lack of strong social interaction can pose higher risks to mental, emotional and physical health as well as the entire aspects of happiness.

"A weak social support is associated with higher incidence of depression, loneliness, alcohol consumption, increased risks to cardiovascular condition, dementia as well as higher suicide cases,” he said.

As such, he said, personal bonds can help reduce stress, allowing an individual and the community to be happier, healthy as well as to enjoy positive lifestyle.

On Malaysia’s global happiness ranking, Abdul Rahman said the stress issue should be carefully looked into and resolved jointly.

"A high stress level can have a negative impact on happiness among Malaysians. In fact, it can also affect the quality of work, social relationships as well as the nation’s economic stability,” he added. - BERNAMA

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