A CHEERY thought to brighten a rainy day: Nine out of 10 Hongkong people are generally happy with life. And despite the political and economic tensions of the moment, many expect to be even happier next year. So forget all those hackneyed images of Hongkongers as money-mad workaholics, the truth is we are among the happiest people in Asia. This is the joyful conclusion from the first Asia-wide happiness survey by Survey Research Hongkong (SRH). SRH Managing Director Mr Allen Leung Cho-keung believes ''Hongkong people should take comfort in knowing that''. What sets Hongkong apart from the rest of Asia is the kind of person most likely to be feeling jaunty. Old or young, married or single, he will be male, with high-school education and - naturally - above-average income. Yet in most countries the happiest people are among the under-20s; except in Korea where it helps to be 30-something and less well educated and in Taiwan where happiness comes with age and low pay. Only Filipinos and Thais were happier single. Ranked in order of happiness with other nations in the survey, Mr Leung admits Hongkong came sixth out of nine, behind arch rivals Singapore as well as Thailand, Malaysia and those famously happy-go-lucky feelgoods in the Philippines and Indonesia who shared top place. But the results were so close, with 89 per cent in Hongkong feeling either quite happy or very happy, compared with 92 per cent and 94 per cent elsewhere, that we can still consider ourselves suffused with a warm Asian glow. Besides, those morose Taiwanese only managed a felicity quotient of 79 per cent. By Asian standards Japan was almost clinically depressed. Only 64 per cent said they were happy and almost a third confessed to being generally glum. Which just goes to show money isn't everything. But it helps. Fully a third of Japanese said they expected to feel happier next year. Two-thirds of the 1,007 Hongkong people questioned expected to feel just as jolly next year.