Happiness survey shows achieving it costs more in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 4:34am

Money can't buy happiness, so the saying goes. Yet people around the world remain obsessed with wealth and making money, so much so that the dollar sign is regarded by many as the equivalent of happiness. Hongkongers are no exception. Not only do they think they can buy their way to happiness, many believe that the more money they have, the happier they will be.

A recent global survey seems to confirm this is the case. When asked how much money they need to earn each year to feel happy, the average amount given was HK$1.5 million, or HK$125,000 a month. Interestingly, women say they need markedly more money to be happy than men. While only 17 per cent of men set the bar at HK$2 million or more, this was the target for 23 per cent of women.

For a money-conscious city, where people worship wealth, the findings should not be too surprising. What sets us apart from others is the level of importance we attach to money. It is intriguing that while people in other parts of the world think an annual income of HK$1.2 million is good enough, people here need more to find contentment. Our figure ranks third highest among a list of 13 places, after Dubai's HK$2.1 million and Singapore's HK$1.8 million.

If the survey is anything to go by, most locals should be unhappy. According to official figures last year, people earned on average HK$12,800 a month, or just one-tenth of the preferred level. This may help explain why the city ranks only 102 in a world happiness index published early this year, sandwiched between Sudan and Belarus in a list of 151 places.

The higher "cost of happiness" in Hong Kong may be attributed to a number of reasons. Low wages, high living costs and limited social security mean the majority struggled to make ends meet every day. It boils down to a sense of comfort and security, the lack of which is often made up by hoarding of wealth and possessions in a materialistic society. Perhaps we can learn from overseas experience. Respondents in developed countries were less likely to see a correlation between income and happiness, and had lower income needs than those in the emerging markets.

Different people have their own recipes for happiness and, inevitably, wealth is one for many. But there should be more to life than money. Love, family, friendship, health and job satisfaction - they are the sources of happiness.