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For many, Chinese dream means happiness(3)

2013-09-06 14:47 China Daily Web Editor: Li Yan


Verna Liang is a prime example of the scourge of comparison. The office manager at a law firm in Beijing always feels tortured after a day's small talk with her co-workers - lawyers from China and overseas, who all earn far more than she does.

"Every lunchtime, they talk about investing in property in California, buying villas in Shunyi (a popular Beijing suburb), or, at the very least, sending their kids to international schools. Meanwhile, I have to ride the bus home," she said. However, she does wear a Cartier watch.

The tendency to make comparisons comes about because each person is, in a sense, two distinct people. Human beings constantly re-evaluate their lives; periodically one side of a person sits back and reflects, summarizing the events in their lives to date, while the other side experiences everyday life. A combination of the two affects people's moods, stress levels and decision-making abilities, according to some psychological theories.

However, compared with income equality, having an equal opportunity to pursue a better income is more important when it comes to personal happiness. "People hate inequality much more when they think it's unfair," according to the first UN World Happiness Report, published in April 2012.

About 70 percent of US nationals believe that the poor have a chance of escaping poverty, compared with just 40 percent of Europeans. While that belief makes US citizens happier, the data also indicated a greater degree of intergenerational social mobility in Europe, the report said.

To create equal opportunities, one of the first steps a government can take is to provide better education for the entire population, which helps to reduce social tension and, as a result, promotes a greater degree of general happiness, the report noted.

'Lost wallet' test

People have a psychological need for a high level of trust in society, not just between citizens, but also in institutions such as government, said Lin Guirui, a psychology professor at Beijing's Capital Normal University.

The human need for trust was confirmed by the "lost wallet" experiment conducted by the Reader's Digest Europe in 1996, when 10 wallets containing a small amount of cash, plus the contact details of the "owners", were dropped at random in 20 cities in 14 European countries and also in 12 US cities.

The number of wallets returned with the contents intact indicated a strong correlation between national social trust and individual levels of personal satisfaction. The experiment has often been replicated by psychological researchers.

"People need a clean government they can rely on, a community where they can trust their friends, neighbors and strangers. Love and belonging come just after basic physiological and security needs, and people are afraid of feeling lonely," said Lin.

"Loneliness is the feeling that human beings can endure the least. When we talk about how we can become happier, we should look at the question from both sides of the coin."

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