Society

The honest truth

Have you been happy this year?

I’m happy but 40% of those surveyed weren’t

In China, 40% of those asked “are you happy?” responded “no” in a recent survey.

The result was more surprising given that the survey was published by Insight China, a health-focused magazine owned by Qiu Shi, or Seeking Truth, the leading journal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Granted, 60% of the 20 to 60-year-olds interviewed said they were “fairly happy or very happy”.

Yet the “no” quotient still seems rather a large one for an editorial board usually keener to mention the Party’s achievements.

Of course, 60% giving the thumbs-up may not be a bad score in happiness terms. And making comparisons across similar polls is fraught with difficulty, with no agreed standard for the framing or weighting of questions.

Forbes magazine reported earlier this year on the respected Legatum Index that named Norway as the top ranker on its “prosperity” index.

In the more recent survey, China scored 52nd, with a ‘life satisfaction score’ of less than 5 out of 10.

In all, 4,025 people were surveyed across 287 cities for the Insight China survey, with respondents asked about areas such as salary and health insurance rather than less tangible queries about love and relationships. The key reason for unhappiness was that “the social welfare system is not good enough” – the verdict 26% of people. Rising inequality was another bugbear – with 23% complaining (not unreasonably) that “there is uneven development in different parts of the country”.

“Social changes have led to pressure on people being too much” was another reason for disquiet (given by 17%), while 13% thought that “the clash between traditional values and contemporary values is too great.”

The happiest people – perhaps unsurprisingly – were bosses or senior managers. The least happy were migrant workers (who make up most of China’s factory labour) and farmers.

Nearly 78% of those down-at-mouth said that “feelings of belonging to a vulnerable section of society” had contributed to their unhappiness. In its report, the magazine also quoted a teacher who won widespread public attention in July for a blog posting that asserted that most of the children he saw succeeding and getting into good universities and jobs came from well-off families.

“It’s very hard to be from a ‘cold door’ and become a nobleman,” he wrote, meaning that children of the poor faced much more of a struggle to succeed.

A separate survey from Insight China carried out over a similar period focused on marriage. Nearly 2.7 million marriages broke up in 2010, according to the Civil Affairs Ministry, an increase of 8.7% over 2009. And a look at what people valued in marriage suggested that money was more important to many than affection. Nearly 71% of married people polled said that income was the most important thing to their relationship.

Happiness levels in marriage also declined over time (although WiC will leave its readers to decide if that is a China-specific sentiment). Those married under three years were happiest, while those over 10 years showed a significant decrease. Among all married people, just 12% said they were “very happy”, with 60% “comparatively happy”.

A large group, 17%, said they “weren’t sure”.

Perhaps they’re waiting to see how the economy pans out next year before they report back on the level of their marital bliss.


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