Promote altruism for a happier, more harmonious Hong Kong
Paul Yip and Forrest Cheung say studies, including the latest done by HKU’s suicide prevention centre, consistently show that helping others gives meaning to life and improves our well-being
Hong Kong people have become more altruistic, and this is a trend we should promote if we hope to improve our sense of well-being.
In research conducted last year, the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong found that the average altruism score for Hong Kong residents has increased, from 3.72 in 2014 to 5.60 last year. The index measures four aspects of altruistic behaviour – volunteering, monetary donation, blood and organ donation, and informal help. While all four aspects showed improvements, the biggest leap was seen in Hongkongers’ participation rate in volunteering, which skyrocketed from 39.1 per cent to 88.5 per cent.
We attribute the improvements to more public awareness about the opportunities for doing good. Today, many platforms provide information about altruistic activities. These include the suicide research centre’s very own “Helppiness” mobile app. Its name is a play on the words “help” and “happiness”, and underlines a correlation that researchers have long observed – that there is a strong relationship between helping others and feeling happy.
In the same recent study, we found a positive correlation between altruism and well-being. This means that the more you help others, the happier you are with life.
Well-being here is defined as more than feeling happy; it is a broader measure of how individuals evaluate their overall satisfaction with life, including how fulfilled they feel and if they find meaning in life.
As part of the study on altruism, we invited 35 Hong Kong residents from diverse backgrounds to join a focus group study, and nearly all participants reported feeling happier after they had helped others. More interestingly, many participants also mentioned other intangible benefits, such as having achieved a personal breakthrough, made more friends, changed their mindsets and gained a sense of purpose.
Their sharing brings out an important message, that altruism promotes a person’s well-being. Through volunteering or making a donation, we go beyond simply living for ourselves. This gives us a sense of purpose in life, which ultimately brings fulfilment and meaning, enriching our well-being.
Recently, Hong Kong people were touched by the story of a dying mother who received a liver transplant from an unrelated donor. Despite the permanent abdominal scars and a potential risk of losing her job, the donor extended her help to a critically ill stranger. She deserves our appreciation and respect. It is precisely this type of kindness that reminds us of our humanity, and it is what makes us proud as a Hong Kong person.
There are many unsung heroes in our community who have been providing help and support to the vulnerable. More publicity of their good deeds can help build trust in our community.
There is a need for strong collaboration between government administrators, legislators, law enforcement agencies and charity organisations to promote altruistic behaviour. We need policies that encourage volunteerism and donation; we need regulations and actions that tackle fraud in the name of “charity” and the misuse of resources; and we need charity organisations to increase their financial transparency.
By taking these actions, Hong Kong can further promote the well-being of its people, and build a safe, loving and harmonious community.
Paul Yip is chair professor, and Forrest Cheung is a project officer, at the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong. Emily Cheng, a research assistant professor at the centre, also contributed to this article