The Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) organised a talk on Wednesday, 16 January 2019.  Y.B. Jannie Lasimbang, Assistant Minister of Law and Native Affairs and Y.B. Senator Adrian Lasimbang also attended the event in IDS Hall, Wisma SEDIA.


The Talk was initiated by the then IDS’ Chief Executive Officer Datuk Dr. Johan Arriffin Samad to establish the Institute as a learning organisation to benefit the society, in line with IDS’ objective in promoting general and professional discussion platform on important national and international issues. According to him, Sabah Talk provides an avenue for its audience to exchange views and ideas on variety of topics concerning the development of Sabah and its people.


Dr. Mohsen Mirza from United Kingdom was the invited speaker for Sabah Talk: Pursuing Happiness, in which his main presentation focuses on improving the quality of happiness as an individual and collectively as part of the community and society. According to Dr. Mohsen, happy communities are created through the influence of positive and productive individuals. Dr. Mohsen, former IT Director with a Phd. in Computer Aided Engineering, have been studying and teaching the Science of Happiness for the last 10 years in the UK.


There are many reasons as to why people would want to be happy. Being happy can constitute for having a better and a more meaningful life either with themselves or sharing it with individuals around them personally or through work relationships.


To a certain extent, happiness is also viewed as an acquired skill where acquiring it enable an individual to recover faster from the negative feelings brought about by dealing with life problems. The need to be happy is now acknowledged by various national and international organizations such as United Nations where the UN publishes annual report on level of happiness.


More efforts have been put forward through various initiatives worldwide to promote happiness as the correlation between happier society and economic growth seem to be faulty to a certain extent. As the global population is facing higher rate of global advancement, there seem to be lesser people becoming happy. This case is particularly true for developed country like the United States where it is known as the richest country with one of the highest rate of capitalisation however its economic growth does not correlate with the level of happiness (United Nation Happiness Record).


The same scenario has been observed in the United Kingdom where its gross domestic product growth has been increasing however the level of happiness of its people remain at constant level since the World War II.


According to Dr. Mohsen, the existing literatures have shown that materialism contributes to 10% of an individual’s happiness where economic growth and financial status play important role in this. The remaining 50% is affected by genetic make-up of an individual. Unfortunately there is nothing that could be done to improve the genetic configuration of an individual. However Dr. Mohsen is optimist about the possibility of improving the genetic make-up as the advancement in neuroscience has now improved significantly. Additionally, genetic inclination can also be suppressed to a certain extent by adopting right practices.


The other 40% of contribution to one’s happiness is believed to rely in one’s choice of actions where the decisions made by an individual in the course of life implicate the level of happiness. Subsequently, this poses a question on what sort of actions and choices individual should take to maximise the level of happiness.


There are six key elements presented in the framework of Dr. Mohsen’s presentation. All of the six elements are the examples of actions and behaviours that have been practiced individually and/or with the community. This can be implemented by all to promote and increase the level of happiness both on individual and societal context. The six elements are:


  1. Positive attitudes


One of the means to optimise one’s level of happiness is to foster positive thoughts through an act of expressing gratitude. Expressing gratitude on a daily basis could promote a sense of appreciation towards life. Dr. Mohsen believes that the meaning of life does not stem from life-changing experiences, rather it stems from a combination of little details that has happened in one’s life. Therefore focusing on the little details that happen daily and appreciating them could physically change the psychology of an individual.


  1. Culture


One-at-a-time instead of multitasking


The culture of multitasking is now widely practiced by population across the globe. It is sought to increase efficiency in life. However Dr. Mohsen views this as something the brain unable to comprehend and therefore can potentially lead to unhappiness. Instead of multitasking, he recommends for an action of ‘doing one thing at a time’ as this helps in creating a happier mind.


Active Listening


Another culture that could be practiced to promote happiness is ‘active listening’. It is an act where the individuals are paying more attention to what others are saying. In most cases, people tend not to listen carefully and tend to switch off their focus once the keywords are heard. Dr. Mohsen views active listening and giving some time to absorb the content of the conversation could promote a sense of well-being for both the parties.


Mindfulness through meditation


Another way of promoting a happier mind is to practice the culture of mindfulness. It is a practice where an individual gives more attention as to what is happening within the surrounding. He views that giving more attention could open the mind and thoughts of an individual. Subsequently this could help in developing more appreciation towards the surrounding. One way that could help in adopting the culture of mindfulness is to practice mediation. There is a scientific evidence showing that an individual who practices meditation has a larger frontal cortex and tends to be more resilient upon encountering unfavourable life conditions.


  1. Neuroplasticity


Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout the life cycle and is achieved by acquiring learning process. The brain pathology changes as it absorbs more learning materials. One way to enhance learning capability is through teaching as one can only teach when one has learnt the subject thoroughly, hence promoting self-learning and also developing connection with one another.


  1. Meaningful relationship


Connecting with the people within the surrounding and fostering a more meaningful relationship is one of the ways to change one’s life to be more appreciative of others which can subsequently lead to a more cohesive and happier society. However, one of the main problems faced by most developed nation is ‘alienation’ where the people who are living in the same community are not aware of each other. This is particularly true in the United Kingdom especially in big cities.


  1. Do Good to feel good


Dr. Mohsen views happiness as two different types; continuous and limited. Happiness that has a limited duration of time is centred upon materialism where buying luxurious goods contribute to one’s happiness. However this type of happiness do not last for long as it is dependent on the ability of a person to keep on purchasing more.


The second one is continuous type of happiness where it is centred upon carrying out good deeds. He views that doing small gestures that have an impact on other people’s life can contribute to a person’s happiness. Dr. Mohsen suggested that individuals should carry out good deeds not only for one-self but also extend to the community as well.


  1. Goals: beyond self interest


Dr. Mohsen encourages everyone to set goals that go beyond self-interest and include the community at large. Setting goals and completing them make a huge difference in life where it provides a sense of satisfaction and achievement as well as training the brain to keep its continuous learning process.




The open dialogue session gave the participants an outlet to share their ideas and practices on happiness in other countries, and also a discussion on the concept of happiness within specific discipline such as gender, equality and security. Datuk Dr. Johan said that the topic of happiness is often forgotten within the Malaysian society, especially with the circulation of sad and morbid news daily in mass and social media. Hence, having an open discussion on the topic, could generate ideas in making Sabah’s local communities the happiest within the nation, through shared cultural practices with other countries and creating a positive news outlet.


 Nurul Masyirah Aklee






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