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Health and wellness

Hongkongers not so sad after all, survey finds, and family has big part to play

Study shows those who eat and communicate more with family, even if not face to face, report higher levels of happiness

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 10:59pm

Eat with family and be merry: that’s the message from a new study done by the University of Hong Kong which found that contrary to the bleak picture often painted of the city’s future, Hongkongers are generally happy.

The survey, carried out by the university’s school of public health, found those who ate and communicated more with their family, even if not face to face, reported higher levels of happiness.

It asked 4,038 residents if they were happy and recorded an average score of 5.15 out of a maximum of 7. When asked if they felt their family were happy, the average score was 7.53 out of 10.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, chair professor of community medicine at the school, said the results indicated Hongkongers were not as down in the dumps as media reports might suggest.

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“While there appears to be a lot of conflicts and dilemmas in the city, actually Hongkongers are still generally happy,” he said.

Lam said many news stories on unhappiness among the city’s residents focused on the 3 to 5 per cent of the population who were distinctly sad, as opposed to the roughly three-quarters of people who reported being happy on both measures in the latest study.

In the recent World Happiness Report, Hong Kong ranked 71st in the world out of 155 countries and territories.

The HKU poll also found women, the elderly and those with higher incomes were slightly happier.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, from the University of California, Riverside, said the findings were consistent with those from studies done in the West.

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“The younger people are still finding themselves, they have lower self-esteem, their lives are mostly controlled by other people ... you are just trying to find your identity, and as we grow older we become more secure,” she said.

But both professors stressed society still had to reach out to those who were not happy.

Lam urged Hongkongers to eat and talk more with family, be it face to face or using technology.

He pointed out that the poll found those who spent between 61 and 90 minutes communicating with family every day had the highest happiness scores compared with those who spent 60 minutes or less or more than 90 minutes doing so.

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Those who had dinner with their family more frequently also had higher happiness scores.

Lam said many Hongkongers might have tight schedules and might not be able to have face-to-face conversations with their family, but even instant messaging and video calls were helpful.

“Even if you have long working hours, you will have a break during which you can send instant messages to your family; or when you are stuck in a jam, you can have a video call with them,” he said.

He also urged parents to spend quality time with their children.

“Parents ... shouldn’t just focus on talking about homework,” Lam said.

“They should talk to children about the things they like, like going to exercise, or food.”

Last year the Hong Kong Happiness Index Survey, conducted by the faculty of business at Chu Hai College and Lingnan University, recorded a happiness score of 67.6 out of 100, down from 70 in 2015. That was the lowest since 2007’s figure of 67.2.

Researchers attributed the decline to dissatisfaction with political reform in the city, a highly confrontational society and young people focusing on matters beyond their control.