City Weekend

Be thankful for what you have, Character Day campaign urges Hongkongers

Initiative involving more than 170 schools, community organisations and private enterprises looks to promote gratitude after city’s happiness index hit record low

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 9:35pm

More than 170 schools, community organisations and private enterprises have joined hands to promote the virtue of “gratitude”, in the city’s first Character Day campaign reminding Hongkongers not to pine for what they lack in life but to appreciate and be thankful for what they have.

The citywide initiative celebrating good character, which began on Thursday and runs to October 22, has been launched by Character Day Association Hong Kong.

It aims to raise public awareness of the importance of nurturing the essential qualities that can bring people happiness and dispel negative thinking.

Seven well-known public figures, including MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang, Chinese University’s vice-chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, actress Karena Lam and actor Alex Fong, are helping spread the message as Character Day ambassadors.

The campaign comes after Hong Kong’s happiness index tumbled to a record low this March, to 75th place among 156 countries in the United Nations’ global ranking, barely ahead of Somalia and well below Libya.

The past academic year also saw a spike in youth suicides as at least 36 young people – one just 11 years old – took their lives, with four suicides occurring over just five days in March, up from the average of 23 student suicides a year between 2010 and 2014. Many people have blamed the pressure-cooker environment of the city’s school system.

Deep blue: Hong Kong tumbles to 75th in world happiness rankings, lowest since UN report debuted

The association’s founder Christine Ma-Lau, also the principal of JEMS Learning House for character education, said she hoped the campaign would instil positive thinking in people and make them realise a person’s values are not measured by academic or career achievements but by the virtues they possess.

“Nowadays, I notice a lot of people, not only Hongkongers, like to indulge in negative thinking. They often see the cup as half empty instead of half full, so they grumble a lot,” Ma-Lau said.

Out of the 24 character strengths social scientists have identified as essential qualities for happiness, including honesty, kindness, bravery, respect and compassion, the organiser has chosen “gratitude” as the focus for this year’s Character Day campaign because it can easily be put into action.

“Foreign studies have shown that higher levels of gratitude can lead to better physical health, happier relationships, better general well-being, and even higher salaries,” she said.

“We can’t change the situation but we can change our perspectives. I think gratitude is about changing our perspectives. It’s not something about what I want. It’s about what I already have.”

Schools, organisations and the general public are welcome to take part in the event this month and encourage people from all walks of life such as students, parents, employees and employers to have a thankful heart.

Happiness of Hong Kong schoolchildren drops to new low, homework increases by up to 40 minutes a day: Lingnan University survey

Each participating organisation will need to place Character Day posters at schools or their workplace and play a short film about character development and organise activities to express thanks to others within the month. The MTR Corporation and Centaline Property Agency are among the 170-odd participants so far.

Character Day is a global event that started in the United States in 2014 with the aim of summoning public participation to celebrate good character. This year, more than 80 countries will participate.

Videos of the ambassadors can be found at: