There's more to life than money

By Cai Hong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, May 17, 2012
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Money isn't everything [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Money isn't everything [By Jiao Haiyang/] 

Whenever a survey of the world's happiest country is released, European welfare states usually top the list.

The first World Happiness Report, released by the Earth Institute last month, was commissioned by the United Nations for its Conference on Happiness. It again shows that the world's happiest countries are all in northern Europe Denmark came top followed by Finland, Norway and the Netherlands.

China doesn't even make the top 100, which should come as no surprise when we consider the measurements used to judge the quality of life in a country: health, education, housing, the environment, jobs, community, work-life balance and incomes.

Take health for instance. Increased insurance coverage has not yet been effective in reducing patients' financial risks, as both health expenditure and out-of-pocket payments continue to rise rapidly. And there are many reports of disgruntled patients and their relatives attacking the medical staff in hospitals. Reform of public hospitals is essential to control health expenditure because such institutes deliver more than 90 percent of the country's health services. But Health Minister Chen Zhu said the cost of improving care remains an obstacle, and China is looking to other nations for cost-effective solutions.

As for the work-life balance, Chinese employees work 8.66 hours a day on average, according to a survey this year jointly conducted by Peking University and the human resources company In Finland, the working day is 7.5 hours, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

At roughly $7.9 trillion, China now accounts for more than a tenth of all global economic activity. But, according to the International Monetary Fund, our per-capita gross domestic product, at $9,143, ranks 91st in the world this year. Clearly we have a long way to go before our economy catches up with the United States and other developed countries.

And though Chinese people have significantly more savings than people in Denmark for instance, we are clearly less happy when we look at all the measurements of national happiness as a whole. When it comes to happiness, the Danes are exceptionally happy, continually ranking as the happiest people on earth over several years in several different studies.

Though the happiest countries tend to be wealthy, and the poorest tend to be the least happy - Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone came bottom on the list - the report notes that happiness is not just about money.

While higher incomes may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for more money may actually reduce one's happiness. Although it may be nice to have more money, it is not so nice to crave it. As the report notes: "Psychologists have found repeatedly that individuals who put a high premium on higher incomes generally are less happy and more vulnerable to other psychological ills than individuals who do not crave higher incomes."

The Danes have a far lower average disposable income than most of their OECD counterparts - proving the adage that money can't buy happiness - so why do we prioritize money over happiness in China?

In recent years, economists and social thinkers have been pushing for new ways to measure countries' economic and social success, arguing that measures such as GDP aren't nearly enough to reflect the real circumstances of a country.

As the report points out: "Happiness differs systematically across societies and over time, for reasons that are identifiable, and even alterable through the ways in which public policies are designed and delivered. It makes sense, in other words, to pursue policies to raise the public's happiness as much as it does to raise the public's national income."

The first World Happiness Report reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness. As China is becoming richer, the government should think hard about sharing the benefits of the country's meteoric rise equally among its people and pursue policies that make them happier.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. E-mail:

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