Be happy – become a Shandong farmer

Could it be that poor Chinese farmers are happier than the rich and famous? From the ever-unlinkable South China Morning Post, this just in:

No price tag on happiness


He might be surprised to hear it, but a poor farmer in rural China is likely to be as happy, if not happier, with his lot in life than a millionaire in Hong Kong, a group of academics have concluded.

Psychologists and anthropologists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Harvard University in the US have been researching how economic changes affect people’s levels of happiness.

Studying 48 villages in Shandong province, they concluded that levels of happiness were based heavily on the way people viewed their level of material comfort compared with their peers.

“Put simply, we are happy not because of the amount of wealth we have, but how we see our wealth compared to the rest of our [peer] group,” said Professor Dominic Lee Tak-shing of Chinese University.

“Someone may be wealthy by most people’s estimates but may not be happy, because he may compare himself with Li Ka-shing or Bill Gates. Social comparison explains why people can be wealthy but not be happy, and even depressed.”

People in rural villages on the mainland are less likely to be exposed to such comparison. “They are separate from the rest of the world and they tend to be happier, because if you look at their whole
village, they are more or less the same,” said Professor Lee.

“The economic gradient isn’t so sharp and the people are generally happier. If they feel they are more or less the same as the rest of their peers, they are content.”

Maybe that’s the answer to life’s miseries — owning a farm in Shandong. If I’d only known earlier…

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Dear Richard,

I don’t know whether you ever got around to reading that travelogue that I emailed you recently as an attachment – the one titled “Golden Week”, when in that I describe a visit that Gao Ying and I made to a small village called Nangang, high up on the slopes of the Liannan mountains, in the Liannan Yao Autonomous County, here in Guangdsong Province. The strange thing for me is that I almost felt envious of them, despite their obvious material poverty. We’re talking about villages who sleep on straw mats, whose homes have dirt floors, no electricity or sewage or plumbing, little (if any) furniture, and very poor diets. The soils in that area are very poor in quality, and the steep gradients that characterise the landscapre just not suitable for large farm plots. The people we met lived mostly off boiled slices of taro, some boiled corn, some rice, and I noticed they were also able to grow peanuts, but in modest amounts.

Both Gao Ying and I were very deeply moved by the friendliness, by the generosity, that they showed us. Meeting the locals, spendsing a day with them in their homes – it was the highlight of our entire trip. I could tell that they were genuinely happy.

I think the study you baked on this thread is absolutely correct, and if I didn’t have such a pounding hangover right now, I would take the time and care to write more thoughtfully about it. perhaps later in the day?

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

July 4, 2005 @ 7:05 pm | Comment

P.S. Sorry about all of my careless typing errors above. I’m not feeling too well right now though.

Regards again,
Mark Anthony Jones

July 4, 2005 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Sorry to hear you’re unwell Mark, nothing serious I hope.

When I read the headline of this article I thought, ‘oh dear, hear we go, more mainland academics talking rubbish about how lucky impoverished Chinese farmers should feel’ but then I noticed that the studies were iniated and analysed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Harvard! Ha, would you believe it?!

I can see the banner headlines in the mainland press:

“Harvard Study Proves Chinese Farmers Are Deliriously Happy With Their Lot”

July 4, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

millionaires have more free time for existential crises

July 5, 2005 @ 9:33 am | Comment

How to be happy: Become a rural Chinese farmer.

Via Peking Duck, I discovered the following short article from the (unlinkable) South China Morning Post. I’m copying the article wholesale (sorry Richard) because I’ve long been interested in happiness research, and this is good stuff:


July 5, 2005 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

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