Interview with Sherman Ho: Co-founder of Happiness Initiative and brains behind World’s First Happiness Film Festival

(photo courtesy of Sherman Ho)

1) Share with us the activities you took part in while studying accountancy in NTU.

I took part in a number of activities when I was in NTU, but the few most memorable and life-changing ones are the overseas programmes that I participated in. I joined a 2 week cultural immersion programme in Pune, India, where I extended the trip to backpack in India for another 2 weeks. I then went for my internship in Ghana, which is in West Africa for 10 weeks, and after that backpacked in South Africa for a month. After that I went for exchange in Mannheim, Germany where I travelled to close to 20 countries during that six-month period when I was there.

2) What is your greatest takeaway from your education years?

I learnt that what you learn in school doesn’t matter if you don’t have the worldview and perspectives to apply it in real life. Too often we are so consumed by our grades that we sacrifice opportunities and experiences just to score better in our exams. But your experiences outside academics actually matter much more when it comes to working in the real world.

3) What was the inspiration behind Happiness Initiative? Share with us the whole journey it took to set up Happiness Initiative.

There were many inspirations behind Happiness Initiative and why Simon and I were motivated to do this. Having travelled to developing countries in Africa, and also to countries like India, I realised that being born in Singapore is such a privilege. But yet, from personal anecdotes and experiences, I found out that there are many Singaporeans who are unhappy. The prevalence of mental health conditions has also gone up over the past couple of years. Singapore, being known for always being top in everything, ranks 34th in the world in the World Happiness Report by the UN.

It inspired me to want to see how I can change things. In recent years, there has been a growing body of scientific research around happiness. We hope to share the science around happiness so that people know that there are choices they can make to be happier.

4) What can we expect more from you in the next few years?

It’s still a two-man team, so we are restricted in the number of programmes we can run. But at least for next year, we are planning a Happiness Conference in Singapore together with the Happiness Film Festival. Hopefully, we can expand our team so that we can run more programmes.

5) What are your hobbies?

Movies. I am very passionate about film. I’m also a long-time volunteer and project manager for the Singapore Film Society. I run and manage a number of film festivals in Singapore every year such as the Japanese Film Festival, the MINDS Film Festival, etc. That’s what led to us creating the Happiness Film Festival.

6) What is one quote you live by?

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

It resonated with me a lot since I first saw it more than 10 years ago. It epitomizes my belief that we should not be too affected by what has already happened, but to look forward and to always enjoy the present moment, and this journey of life.

7) What is one thing you would tell your past self and your future self?

I don’t think I’d want to tell my past or future self anything. I think what shapes you to become the person you are today are the experiences that you go through. Having someone tell you is very different from going through an experience yourself. You learn and internalise more through your own personal experiences.

8) What advice do you have for young people who are still looking for their identity in life?

Take your time. Life is not a competition, and there is no ticking clock. Learn to live life in the present moment, and enjoy the friends and family around you. Too often we get distracted pursuing things that don’t matter that by the time we are on our deathbeds, it’s too late.

As the saying goes, “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.

9) How did the idea of Happiness Film Festival (HFF) come about?

That was my co-founder’s idea actually. He wanted to use film as a medium to express different ideas of happiness and well-being. As someone who has extensive experience in organising a film festival, we were in the perfect position to organise it.

10) What more exciting films can we expect from the next edition of HFF?

Well, to be honest I haven’t started the curation process yet, so you’d just have to wait and see!



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