He might be surprised to hear it, but a poor farmer in rural China is likely to be as happy, if not happier, with his lot in life than a millionaire in Hong Kong, a group of academics have concluded. Psychologists and anthropologists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Harvard University in the US have been researching how economic changes affect people's levels of happiness. Studying 48 villages in Shandong province, they concluded that levels of happiness were based heavily on the way people viewed their level of material comfort compared with their peers. 'Put simply, we are happy not because of the amount of wealth we have, but how we see our wealth compared to the rest of our [peer] group,' said Professor Dominic Lee Tak-shing of Chinese University. 'Someone may be wealthy by most people's estimates but may not be happy, because he may compare himself with Li Ka-shing or Bill Gates. Social comparison explains why people can be wealthy but not be happy, and even depressed.' People in rural villages on the mainland are less likely to be exposed to such comparison. 'They are separate from the rest of the world and they tend to be happier, because if you look at their whole village, they are more or less the same,' said Professor Lee. 'The economic gradient isn't so sharp and the people are generally happier. If they feel they are more or less the same as the rest of their peers, they are content.'