What does Happiness Depend on

Thanks for everyone who posted comments to my entry Helping by Hiring. There are 38 very high quality comments in the discussion about the social welfare system in China. I am very happy that my article draws some attention to Ayi who badly needs help. I will continue to monitor and see if there is opportunity I can help. I am working on a website to help people to hire an Ayi so to create more opportunities for them.

At the same time, I am thinking about the question: “Are we happier than them?” We refers to the circle I am in – my colleagues and my friends who have university degrees and earn well. Them means people who have very low income, like Ayi.

The answer is obvious. But sometimes, it may not be the only answer. My question can be paraphrased as “Will money and education bring happiness after the basic living is covered?”

Shanghai is the Second Unhappiest City in China

As the report figured out, people in Shanghai generally are not happy. It is very true.


Over-time working is common in IT and Media (advertisement) industry, and not rare in other industry as well. Get up early, go to work, go back home after 11:00 PM or even 1:00 AM, sleep, and go to work… The most interesting part is that, when we gather, people like to show off of how late they work. It is a symbol of exciting life and a sense of achievement.

To survive in Shanghai is not easy. Wait a minute. A sentence painted on the wall of the transition hub of the World Trade Center site in New York just jump out of my head: Man who can survive in New York can survive anywhere in the world. Didn’t we sense more pride instead of sadness in this sentence? It is the same in Shanghai.

Compeition and Education

Students on campus are preparing for TOFEL, GRE, TOIEC.

My friends in a team are working hard to pass MCSE, MCSD and all kinds of certificates.

People who already worked for some years study to pass PMP, ITLE. People get one certificate after the other and still keep asking: “Is there any other hot certificate I can pass?”

For senior managers, they have started their MBA or EMBA courses. It is hot in Shanghai. The 290,000 RMB annual tuition for Fudan EMBA does not stop people joining the program.

No one in this city can escape from the competition. Taxi drivers, for example, are learning English on the day off – remember that they have worked 24 hours continuously and still need to spend several hour to learn English on the 24 hours of break.

Well. Certificate is something you can “shine in the eyes of strangers” (as Wordsworth put it). Strangers certainly include future employers.

Sports? Friends?

I feel very happy and relaxed after Wendy and I just get back from badminton court. We drove 15 minutes to Lujiazui for it. It reminded me that when we lived in Puxi, the badminton court, the swimming pool and all kinds of sport facility were just on the other side of the road – I can even see people playing tennis from my window, we didn’t went there during our two years for sports – I was in the circle to work harder and get more certificate at that time.

In large city like Shanghai, friends are far away. I miss the time in smaller city – my friends live next building with me. There are many friends in the same area. Even the whole city is not far. Now, when I want to visit a friend, he is on the other side of the city and it costs at least 1 hour’s drive. I am not happy about it.

A Family of Life-destroying Emotions in City

Alain de Botton commented about the city life in his the Art of Travel:

The poet (Wordsworth) accused cities of fostering a family of life-destroying emotions: anxiety about our position in the social hierarchy, envy at the success of others, pride and desire to shine in the eyes of strangers. City dwellers had no perspective, he alleged, they were in thrall to what was spoken of in the street or at the dinner table. However well provided for, they had a relentless desire for new things, which they did not genuinely lack and on which their happiness did not depend. Andy in this crowded, anxious sphere, it seems harder than it did on an isolated homestead to begin sincere relationship with others.

It is admirably to the point. We change mobile everyday, we buy many goods that poor people cannot buy, but it has nothing to do with our happiness. As de Botton or Wordsworth put it, our happiness did not depend on those fancy stuff.

Everyone is seeking for something he/she doesn’t actually need to be happy. To rank higher in the hierarchy may not bring more happiness than a shine afternoon tea with friends.

18 thoughts on “What does Happiness Depend on

  1. Take a look at this article on money and happiness:


    basically, they correlate only at income levels that are very low (you at the very least need food, housing, etc.), but above a certain level, the return on “happiness” from money doesn’t rise very much. If you know computer science, then we can say that it is an “asymptotic function” of income. :-)

  2. Lee,

    Always consider the source and its agenda. Both who wrote it and who is promoting it. ;-)


    As for pursuing happiness through wealth, it’s a balancing game. Those that only pursue wealth are always working thus not enjoying the fruit of their labor. It takes maturity to understand that you’ve got to make time for your own happiness and then leave work behind while focusing on fun activities. The idea that you will be less happy the wealthier you are is just a socialist dream. Would you have more fun visiting the playground at a nearby park or hopping around in Disney World?

    The thing some people don’t realize is that free time is also a sign of wealth. Being able to work only a four-day workweek while still making a good income is a sign of a good life. Then again…

    Let us also not be blind to the fact that for some people what they do for their jobs IS what gives them the most joy in life. For these individuals, they’ve achieved the ultimate. Being paid to do what they enjoy. They’re not overworked when that happens. They just need to say to others, “No, this is what I enjoy doing. Be happy for me.”

    All the above simply takes maturity. If anything people are lacking is maturity. And that’s not just as far as their careers go either. Think about it. I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about. And if you do, you’re more mature than those who don’t.

    Maturity isn’t about aging, but reflection. If you never reflect on your actions, you never mature.

  3. Hi Tough_lefse, I like your words “The thing some people don’t realize is that free time is also a sign of wealth”. Free time to enjoy the sunlight or time with friends is also someone’s wealth. I do agree the world is so large with many kinds of people. For the same person, the happiness comes from different sources at different ages. It is true someone enjoys working, and working. I did before and I also enjoy working currently – very exciting and the people we talk at work time are different with our friends. However, I am arguing for some of my friends is: “Do you enjoy working or do you ONLY enjoy working?” Ask the question to many people: “What do you do at your spare time?” I answered, about four years ago, that “Sleep”. We can call work everyday without any relax as enjoy working; we can also call it “don’t know how to enjoy life.” I don’t mean to offense anyone – I am taking myself as an example. This was the path I came along. At least, I understand to take care of the cats and flowers brings happiness to me; to read books brings happines; to go sports brings happiness; of cause, to archive the goal at work also brings happiness. It is all about balance different factors in life.

  4. Surprisingly money does not increase happiness after you have enough to cover the basic necessities in life. “One” of the sources of happiness is finding a meaningful purpose in work – in other words having passion in what you do. One derives more satisfaction and happiness from a sense of passion than just money.

    For example, I am sure Jian Shuo gets a sense of satisfaction from the sucess of his blog more than money can buy. That’s because it’s a labor of love. Some of the most successful people I know don’t view their work as “work”. They will gladly do it for free because of passion. Ironically that passion translates into success and money.

  5. Hey, guys! But don’t forget about a group of people in the nook who’s got better salary and a wealth of time to handle at will but still are NOT happy. What’s wrong with that? I suppose that’s the issue of “character of the city”, which relates to J.S.Wang’s another blog days ago — My FAVORITE list about Shanghai. Do you think Ayi group will share your review? Can they afford the happiness catering for sort of metropolis anxiety? I ‘complained’ about the tardiness in Chengdu when I saw the huge scence of people sipping tea and playing Mah-jong in a public park for whole day. But I was warned to mind my words because what matters is the freaky fast pace in our city! Here I would just like to call your attention to the factor of environment. Though I reserve my right here on the topic of competition and progress, I think it is the modern city life that changed people’s value of happiness.


  6. Wow, it take courage to tackle such a big and complicated issue. Thank you for bringing it up, Jianshuo. I know a lot of scientists and psychologists have spent years on this questions but have not yet found a satisfactory answer. We may divide this issue into two sub-topics: happiness from work and happiness from life.

    First, where the happiness comes from during work? Is it true that in Shanghai people now work in the office till midnight? I had such a work-to-live lifestyle in HK for serveral years. It was a nightmare. But in my experience, overtime, surprisingly, is NOT the main reason. I had no passion or motivation to serve those big big corporate clients and I could not make me believe that I did not work just to make a living. I thought my knowledge, talents or abilities (no matter how little or limited they are) should be utilized for more meaningful work. Also, I did not find those big corporate clients treated me as an individual. I was just a member of another giant name serving their needs, nothing more.

    Then, how we get happiness from everyday life? I agree time is a measure of wealth nowadays. I always treature the time I spend with my family, loved ones and friends. I also feel very happy for doing nothing serious (if I have got the luxuary), like looking into the blue sky or watching people walking along the streets. I guess a lot of unhappiness comes from materialism and consumerism, one of evils of capitalism. I feel lucky that I have not fallen to the prey to them so far (at least compared to most of people at my age). Influenced by the false happy feelings created by commercials from everywhere, people are very conscious about brands and believe those advertised goods can bring more happiness and sense of achievement. They are just illusions. But don’t get me wrong. I like shopping, especially grocery shopping (no taste?!)and shopping at bookstores. There is nothing wrong with shopping itself (as a result of the division of labor), but you need a little self-discipline and buy what you really need, not you think you may need or just because other people do so.

    For a bigger picuture, I believe happiness comes from helping poeple in need and making this world a little better because of your efforts. So things like donation, volunteer work, or helping a stranger find his way home bring great happiness to me.

  7. Wonderful Blog, nice aritcles, I envy you and your site. :)

    And if you don’t mind, I’d like to add her to my friend links.

  8. For me, happiness is about sharing, about spending time with my family. About leaving work behind when I leave my office. About visiting this blog. I’ts about enjoy every moment of my life. I remember one russian philosopher said “If you want to be happy, BE HAPPY!”

    Regarding the money issue, we work, make money so we can enjoy our life better! Let’s all keep a right priority of life, work is definitely not on the top of list.

  9. Happiness is the exhilarated state of mind one finds while in the process of creating a life they deem worth living. For some, this is raising a child. Others, it’s climbing the social or economic ladder. Some revel in the simple things of a garden – or helping another soul on his or her way in the world. It’s different for everyone.

    It’s not a place you reach, or a certificate, or a title. It’s the way you feel along the ride.

    PS: Nice blog. First time here, but I must say it’s enjoyed.

  10. Referring to the recent article by Time magazine, I think happiness should not be treated as a goal, but as our state of mind in the present. It’s all in the moment. People who live in third world countries could be just as happy, because they really “live” their lifes each day and worrying about what the future holds only brings us agitation, fear, and anxiety, which in turn, lead to unhappiness. Questions like “How can I afford a car?”, or “How can I get a raise?” eventually create constant worrying. Those are valid questions; but if there’s a solution to a problem, act on it; if not, then why worry? It’s gonna happen anyway.

    Only by treasuring our present life and be grateful of what we have now could we truly be happy. Just imagine that there are millions of other people in the rest of the world who are worse off.

    Just to comment on the blog: what a nice read, keep up the good work!

  11. I’ve been thinking of where to get happiness for quite long time and though I haven’t figured out a way to happiness yet.. I am only very sure about one thing: to lose some more money will definitely make me a little more unhappier… ;)

  12. i think happiness is not found when we have something or someone. although we’d be happy if we had thoses things. happiness is not something that we search for but something that happens when it does. happiness is within your journey, and you will not need to seek for. the more you seek the farther away it will be or the harder it will be. life is fullfilled when happiness is present and evan though many people still refer happiness as something or someone, it is just presently used

  13. Felt really good reading your articles.In today’s world of success and competition,people have forgotten the true meaning of life.I personally feel living a balanced life is much more meaningful than merely climbing the ladder of success.

  14. to me, happiness is about love. when we know that there is someone out there who really loves us and cares about us, we feel more secure, calm, not discriminated and basically, happy! also when we feel safe and calm and relaxed, we are feeling all the aspects of happiness because we know that our heart is loved and it also therefore has others’ love in it. i think that everytime we are happy, we are ourselves and even without a lot of money, we can still always be happy.

  15. Part of the meaning of life is to have highs and lows. A life that was constantly happy was not a good life.

    However, there may be at least one important relationship between money and happiness– happy people tend to have higher incomes later on in their lives. So, while money may not help make people happy, being happy may help them make money. :)

  16. for me, happiness depend on how we can see our life perception, coz what we think about anything just come from our brain, not more….

    then we should know religion have strong power influening our life happiness

    the easy way to be happy, whatever ur religion, from now believe it….

  17. True happiness is:

    1) Doing what your morals tell you to do

    2) Doing things in line with truth or eternal laws

    3) Doing something that you feel helps other people and thinking about their problems

    4) Doing better than you have in the past

    5) Doing something you feel makes up for past mistakes

    6) Make goals and planning them out or working towards them

    7) Having realistically low enough expectations of self and others and life events

    8) Forgiving others for making mistakes and allowing them to do so

    9) Loving other people, making time for and spending time with those you love

    10) Choosing to see meaning (or humor) in unwanted events

    11) Looking for good in anything that happens to you and others you love

    12) Feeling loved and protected by someone (namely God)

    13) Remembering and thinking about yours or other’s happy events

    14) Enjoying little pleasures that you think are a reward for good efforts

    15) Recognizing, watching, and contemplating the beauty or simplicities in life

    16) Keeping balanced including exercise, study, faith, prayer, laughter, and smiling

    17) Remember the good Past while Living in the Present while Planning for the Future

    18) Taking frequent but very brief time to eat, dance, fish, read, sew, paint or anything to escape

    Just ask any Mormon.

  18. Thank you for posting this great topic about the philosophy of money, happiness and life. The philosophy of life defines happiness as something which money can’t buy. Some may agree while others will think that it is a paradox. Money makes the world go round. In this world where changes occur, the way money works is not dissimilar to magic in other cultures. Well, it does buy it for some – more rich people report being happy than poor people. Middle class income earners also are less happy, though they earn sufficient income. This is called the Easterlin paradox, for the economist who first published this information. It basically states that in industrial nations with relatively high incomes more people are unhappy than in poor nations. There’s an idea that industrialized nations have more dissatisfaction in daily life due to a lack of connection with others, which is something that money can’t cure.

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