Individual Actions that Make Hong Kong a Happier Place

The International Day of Happiness took place on March 20th, and this year’s theme was “share happiness.” Established in 2012, the Day was set by the United Nations to recognize the universal importance of happiness and well-being, and emphasize its importance in making public policy.

Hong Kong took the 71th place in the International Ranking of Happiness 2015-2017, according to the World Happiness Report released on the Day. Nordic countries Finland, Norway and Denmark topped the list, while Taiwan ranked 26th and China at 86th.

The 15 top-ranking countries of happiness in 2015-2017. (Figures: World Happiness Report)
Hong Kong placed 76th in the ranking of happiness. (Figures: World Happiness Report)

This report was conducted by the United Nations, using six key variables to measure happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

While changes from areas such as income and social support could only be achieved from a macro scale, there are concrete actions individuals can take to live a happier life and build trust and generosity. How could we take inspiration from this year’s theme, and make our lives in Hong Kong more delightful? Here are some simple, scientifically proven actions that bring about improvement.

How you spend your money matters

According to a Germany-based survey, 23 percent of people in Hong Kong indicate that the amount of money they have to live on is a major cause of stress in their lives. While living expenses in our city does stress many, happiness is not always correlated with wealth.

When spending money on life experiences such as a concert, a dinner night or a outdoor trip, we experience pleasure that lasts longer, which is validated through research conducted by Cornell University and San Francisco State University found. Increasing ownership of material goods only provides a short-term form of happiness, while quality experiences give us more fulfillment and worthiness long after the event ends. Experiences are also the connection to our social lives, and they deepen our bondings with people around us.

Additionally, multiple studies across countries with different purchasing powers have all come to the same conclusion: we are happier spending money on others than spending money on ourselves. A study conducted by Elizabeth Dunn’s team showed that participants revealed to have a higher sense of well-being and purpose when they are informed that they are spending money for their friends, rather than for themselves.

In a survey organized by Greenpeace in Hong Kong, over half of the respondents owned clothes that still had tags on them, let alone other unhealthy shopping habits like buying more that they could afford. However, 60% of the respondents indicated that their feelings of satisfaction and excitement they get from shopping disappear within a day. What’s the takeaway? Instead of spending money on a shopping spree, invest it into an experience that you and your loved ones would all enjoy, such as a weekend outdoor trip.

Renting a bike and cycling around Tai Po Market is a popular weekend activity in Hong Kong. (Photo: Sarah Chen)

Our connections define our well-being

To understand the mentality behind a happy and fulfilling life, Harvard Study of Adult Development ran a 76-year study. The result unveiled that the most important factor impacting our happiness and health was the connection of our relationships with family, friends, loved ones and our communities.

Hong Kong has the longest working hours across the globe, according to a UBS study. A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) showed that 17% of working moms in Hong Kong spend less than an hour a week with their family. In our precious leisure time, making an effort to accompany our close ones will bring all of us closer.

Father and daughter playing a small game on public transportation. (Photo: Emily Peng)

Outdoor time benefits the mind and body

With long hours and a heavy workload, many individuals easily fall into the trap of working inside corporate buildings or classrooms for the entire day. A study by the Chinese University shows that the youth in Hong Kong are lacking exercise.

The Finnish Forest Research Institute found that urban people begin to feel psychologically restored and more creative by spending 15 minutes outside in a natural environment, whether it is a park or a forest. That’s not so hard to do in Hong Kong, considering there are over 70 public parks and many world-famous hiking trails in and outside the city.

Seeing the bird’s eye view of the city landscape from Kowloon Peak. (Photo: Emily Peng)

Increasing one’s happiness requires the joint effort of administrative support and individual changes to one’s lifestyle. The idea of “sharing happiness,” through means of distributing resources, spending more time with others and engaging with our natural environments, could potentially increase Hong Kong’s ranking in the World Happiness Report, and make life in the metropolis better for all.


Reporter: Emily Peng

Editor: Wilson Wong

Copy Editor: Jasmine Hong

Content Manager: Christy Yeung

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