Happiness can have profound properties on us. Happiness leads to longer life, better health, resilience to illnesses, and better performance at work and study. Evidence from a study suggest the difference in life span between the happiest people and depressed people was as high as nine years.
So what makes us happier?
Well first of all how happy someone is, is heavily affected by genetics. That’s because different people react differently to happy events, stressful events, and the overall contentment level can vary between individuals that have the same lifestyle.
Happiness can come from things that give us short busts of pleasure. Could be having a nice meal, or buying a new car, or even having sex with someone.
However, happiness that comes from pleasure wears off quickly. In fact, doing pleasurable activities repeatedly can often create an addiction to that lifestyle, and if the person gets too much of the same stimuli they will feel bored or sad without it. We could be talking about anything from skydiving on weekends, partying all the time, to taking drugs.
The second main source of happiness comes from family and friends. The more friends we have and the deeper the relationships with the people around us, the better we will feel. In addition to the family we were born into, getting married and creating a family of our own can create happiness.
If someone is not doing well financially or suffering from ill health then they will not be as happy. Financial and physical well being are important to our happiness, which is why generally people in developed countries are happier than in developing countries. But we only need a minimum level of wealth to feel good, after that extra wealth do not really create more happiness.
The Fourth source is having long term goals that are also enjoyable. This could be linked to work, a business or pursuit outside of work.
Last but not least, having a meaning in life is very important. There is evidence people that are religious are happier because they have a belief that is bigger than themselves. A very good family man I know once said the same about having family and children, it gave him his purpose in life.
So are we really happy, us city dwellers, especially in a city as big and stressful as HK?
In the developed world the standard of living has gone up a lot in the last 50 years, but happiness has actually gone down slightly in polls of respondents. That’s mainly because although we can afford more, we’re losing net happiness by living more stressful lives. Also, richer people will compare themselves to those around them, so it’s possible to have more money and still feel poorer. Your typical banker who's not happy with his bonus is the best example.
So although money can buy more happiness, its effect after the basic necessities of life are covered are negligible. What people need to be happy long term is probably a healthy balance of pleasurable stimuli, long term goals, relationships with other human beings, and some form of meaning in life.
Now all these points might seem very obvious. But then after reading this post your average HK person will go back to living their lives full of short term pleasurable stimuli. Almost ignorant to the fact that the very environment we live in, which is full of short term fixes makes it much harder for us to form a longer lasting relationship with anyone.