Blowing Water

Too busy to be kind? We Hongkongers have no excuse

Tiny gestures in a city consumed by material gain can go a long way

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 10:05pm

When was the last time you went out of your way to do something nice for someone, even a stranger?

Some of us carry out charitable acts every now and then, whether it’s volunteer work or donating money or items to welfare groups. We may even consider tiny gestures such as helping an old lady cross the road or giving directions to lost tourists as an expression of kindness.

Charitable acts are not only about the “haves” helping the “have-nots” – anybody can extend a helping hand to others who need help. And it’s not just about material help. It can be about sparing your time and energy, showing that you care or just simply being considerate.

A single act of kindness, big or small, can go a very long way: a welcoming smile, a morning greeting, giving up your seat on the subway (which is as rare as hitting the Mark 6 jackpot in Hong Kong these days), or donating your fortune to charity. It reveals and consequently reaffirms our humanity, which is something we tend to neglect.

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Chinese believe in “jik fuk”, which means to accumulate blessings and happiness. The moral thinking is that we must accumulate good karma, as we believe doing good deeds will yield positive results, while on the other hand, doing bad things will cause negative consequences.

Come Lunar New Year, which is just around the corner, doing good deeds is particularly important because like Christmas, we want to start off the year with a clean slate, cast aside old grudges and focus on all things positive by acting charitably.

We continue to face this perpetual happiness deficit, no matter how well the city performs economically

Simply put, it’s good to be good. It not only touches someone’s life but defines us as a person. Kindness also makes us happy and happiness makes us kind in turn.

I am not saying we have to live this way 24/7 to validate our humanity, and I totally understand that being consistently charitable may not be easy in a city like Hong Kong, where we are consumed by the constant demands of everyday life. In such a stressful daily situation, day-to-day living can be draining and leave us feeling unfulfilled and too exhausted to even be kind to ourselves.

I totally get it. With what little energy we have left at the end of a working day, it can seem unnecessarily taxing to expend what little strength we have left on caring for loved ones, let alone a stranger.

No wonder Hongkongers are so unhappy, as evidenced by a recent survey ranking the city as the 7th least happy place in the world. We love being in the top 10, but this isn’t a list to be bragging about. We continue to face a perpetual happiness deficit, no matter how well the city performs economically.

But does it really have to be this way?

Maybe Hongkongers need to redefine happiness and well-being. Maybe we need to broaden the scope of personal wealth. Not only is it good to be good, but this pursuit even makes other people around us feel good when they see you do good. Like laughter, it’s infectious.

I have a friend whom I’ve known for more than a decade. I have always known he is a good, kind and generous person. But only recently did I find out he has been supporting the son of his domestic helper for 16 years. The father died in an accident before the boy was born, so without hesitation, my dear friend has happily provided for his employee’s son, which includes schooling and putting a roof over their heads.

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What I found to be even more admirable was that my friend never previously mentioned this to me. I only found out after visiting his home for a New Year’s Eve celebration. I have no words to describe my admiration and feeling of honour being his friend. This is what kindness does: it spreads like wildfire, inspiring others to emulate noble conduct.

Meanwhile, there are Hongkongers who are petulant and constantly struggling to get past material accumulation, continuing to base their happiness on career prospects and monetary gain while forgetting about the things that matter more: family, friends and love. There are hundreds of thousands of foreigners who are forced to separate from their children, spouses and families to work in our city for a meagre salary. They toil to provide for their families, sometimes at the cost of their own happiness.

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Can we Hongkongers say that we have done the same?

I am not trying to be too simplistic, but we know all too well happiness doesn’t mean more money or more power; money can’t buy true happiness. I don’t have the right answer for everyone, but what I can say is one of the ways I derive my happiness is from being with people who make other people happy without expecting anything in return. And that makes me want to be a better person and strive to do the same.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post