22 February 2019
Happiness for most young people is not to work long hours. Photo: HKEJ
Happiness for most young people is not to work long hours. Photo: HKEJ

How to make our young people happy

You don’t need a Jack Ma to tell you how to become the happiest person on earth.

Two months ago the Alibaba Group chairman said the happiest people in China are those making between 20,000 yuan (US$2,892) and 40,000 yuan a month – meaning the middle class.

Those who make over 10 million yuan are likely to have some trouble, while those making more than 100 million yuan are in for bigger trouble, he said.

His words should offer some lessons to people living in Hong Kong, where unhappiness seems widespread.

The latest Hong Kong Happiness Index survey conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Studies of Lingnan University and the Faculty of Business of Chu Hai College of Higher Education points out the obvious.

The index has dropped further to a nine-year low of 67.6 points, with 100 being the highest level. It was 70 points previously.

I teach in one of colleges that did the survey, and I know fairly well that this mark is equivalent to a “C”, a mediocre if not hopeless score that you only give poor students.

The youngsters are said to be the unhappiest as the index for those aged below 30 dropped to a  12-year low of 63.8 from 69.3. That would be an alarming C-minus on my scoring scale.

As most of us already know, young people are unhappy about everything, from their frustrations about political reform to their dissatisfaction with media, policy, living environment and healthcare systems.

I am surprised, though, that they didn’t list housing as one of their major frustrations, and this has given me second thoughts about the correlation between home size and happiness.

But the survey yields some interesting findings: families with a monthly income that’s above HK$10,000 but below HK$30,000 a month are the happiest in Hong Kong.

The poll also finds that people are less happy when they spend longer hours at work.

Those who only finished Form 7 (or DSE – diploma for secondary education) but were not able to get into college are the happiest group.

Why so? This is not among the major findings of the survey and as such the researchers did not bother to explain.

But let me try to make a comment here. It all boils down to young people’s expectation of how they will live in the future.

Following the surge in property prices over the last decade, our youngsters came to realize that there is no way they could afford a flat that is selling at HK$20,000 per square foot.

Coming to terms with reality, they instead save money to buy a Hermes handbag worth HK$20,000 or spend a similar amount for a trip to Iceland or Finland to see the awe-inspiring northern lights.

They have also realized that they will be much happier not to own anything in the new economy dominated by Airbnb and Uber.

As such they have no desire of owning a flat or even a car.

What they are interested in chasing is an affordable life experience like a trip to an exotic place, dining in a restaurant with three Michelin stars, or going to a by-invitation-only concert.

These are the comfort things that they want to share in their social network, telling friends and colleagues that they can live happily, if contentedly, in an unhappy and unfavourable political, social and economic environment.

Life is simpler that way for these young people in the HK$20,000 salary bracket who don’t have to work long hours or have a college diploma.

Everything comes with a price, but our youngsters have found a different strategy for living. 

It’s good to be imbued with the Lion Rock spirit, but the mountain has become too tall for them.

After all, even Jack Ma has confessed that he’s not really happy after gaining all his billions.

To each his own.

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EJ Insight writer

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