The 7 challenges senior citizens face in achieving happiness

THIS year, the World Happiness Report (WHR) was produced in partnership with Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the WHR's Editorial Board.

Malaysia was ranked 58th out of 143 countries in terms of life evaluation for 2021-2023, as compared with Asean member countries including Singapore (30th), the Philippines (53rd), Vietnam (54th), Thailand (57th), Indonesia (80th), Laos (104th), Myanmar (118th) and Cambodia (119th).

Among the criteria used include GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption, according to WHR 2024.

The ranking was based on age groups. Malaysia was ranked 64th for the age group below 30 years (as compared with Thailand 45th) and 71st for the age group above 60 years old (Thailand 41st, the Philippines 43rd and Singapore 26th).

Thus, Malaysian citizens aged 60 years and above were the least happy group in the country, while the young group (

As quoted in the WHR 2024, In the Seven Ages of Man in Shakespeare's As You Like It, "the later stages of life are portrayed as deeply depressing". The Malaysian happiness ranking by age group seems to be able to relate to this quote.

Not surprisingly, we witness from our neighbourhood, and read in the social media and press articles that among the factors that may contribute to senior citizens being the least happy group in the country are:

1. Financial insecurity, which can result from ineffective financial management after retirement, insufficient savings, low retirement benefits, and lack of awareness, thus limiting access to various pension schemes which are only available in more recent years. This financial strain can make it difficult for them to afford basic items such as healthcare, housing and food.

2. Limited access to healthcare facilities, long waiting times, and high out-of-pocket expenses pose barriers to receiving timely and appropriate medical care.

3. Social isolation and loneliness are common among senior citizens in Malaysia, especially those who live alone or have limited social support networks. This is even more significant in rural areas where many children have migrated to cities for better job opportunities. This can have detrimental effects on their mental health and wellbeing, leading to a wide range of psychosocial issues including depression and anxiety.

4. Age discrimination in employment and societal attitudes can limit opportunities for senior citizens to remain active and be engaged in the workforce and community life. Negative stereotypes about ageing can contribute to social exclusion and diminish older adults' sense of dignity and self-worth.

5. Providing affordable and suitable housing options that are age-friendly and accessible is a challenge for many elderly individuals in Malaysia. The limited availability of affordable housing and the absence of essential accessibility features, along with inadequate infrastructure, create significant obstacles for older adults who wish to age in place comfortably.

6. Senior citizens in Malaysia are at risk of various forms of mistreatment, including financial exploitation, neglect, and physical or emotional abuse.

The lack of awareness, social stigma, and cultural barriers can prevent victims from seeking help or reporting abuse, making it crucial to establish legal protections and rights for senior citizens, such as access to justice and protection against discrimination and mistreatment, to ensure their wellbeing and dignity.

7. Transportation and mobility can be hindered for senior citizens due to limited access to reliable and affordable transportation options, making it challenging for them to access essential services, social activities, and healthcare facilities: and

8. The digital divide can limit elderly individuals' access to digital technologies and the Internet, which can restrict their ability to stay connected, access information, and take advantage of online services, such as telemedicine and e-commerce.

Looking at these factors in general it is important to understand the dynamics of happiness among a wide range of age groups (and other demographic profiles such as education, marital status, gender, etc) at different geographical distribution areas (e.g., urban-rural) apart from the income level (which needs to be mapped with the cost of living).

Furthermore, these factors reveal the existing challenges and barriers to happiness.

Therefore, identifying these factors will provide opportunities for improvement and help contribute to the happiness index among our senior citizens.

It also helps the local authorities, urban planners, and welfare-focused organisations to formulate more targeted and holistic strategies to create a more inclusive society by looking at the inequality of happiness more closely.

Senior citizens are the greatest treasures of a family, society, and nation with an immense ocean of knowledge, experience and wisdom which serves as a guidepost for the younger generations. This value is deeply rooted in oriental culture and a value that should be preserved.

The writer is an Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Built Environment, and Chair of the Social Advancement and Happiness Research Cluster, Universiti Malaya. She may be reached at

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