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UPDATED: March 12, 2012 NO. 11 MARCH 15, 2012
Finding Happiness
Young and old, experts and average people, join in the search for happiness in a rapidly changing China
By Tang Yuankai

Christopher Hsee, a professor with the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago, is one of the pioneers who introduced happiness research into China. Committed to discovering the factors that influence happiness and interpersonal relationships, Hsee named the new discipline "Hedonomics," which means the pursuit of happiness. Here, "happiness" means a kind of long-term subjective well-being, rather than short-term ease and comfort. In the research, the major challenge lies in how to elevate the level of happiness.

When studying psychology in Germany, Ni Zijun was surprised to find that positive psychology, a discipline she had never heard of, had replaced the principles of economics as the most popular course at Harvard University. "As far as I know, the principle of economics taught by N. Gregory Mankiw had occupied the first place for years," said Ni. After returning to China, Ni spent most of her time researching into positive psychology. She is now the president of Asian Institute of Positive Psychology.

The basic rules for happiness are applicable to people across the world, said Ni. It has been proved that the three factors—genes, living environment, and personal attitude—contribute 50 percent, 10 percent and 40 percent respectively to one's feeling of happiness.

"We have 40-percent control of our happiness," said Ni.

According to her study, when per-capita GDP reaches $3,000, the level of happiness will no longer grow proportionally with wealth accumulation. "Material comfort can contribute to happiness to some degree, but to pursue real happiness, we have to make some psychological adjustment," said Ni.

The English word "happiness" derives from an Icelandic word "Happ," which means luck and opportunity. Everyone should try to find out the true meaning of happiness, rather than depending on luck for happiness, said Tal Ben-Shahar, the lecturer of positive psychology at Harvard University.

Ancient wisdom

Ben-Shahar is a former Israeli squash champion. He is one of the most outstanding graduates from Harvard University. Ben-Shahar said after feeling depressed for over 30 years, it was positive psychology that finally led him onto the path toward happiness. Its effects have amazed almost all the students who have attended his course. Positive psychologists seek to find and nurture genius and talent, and to make normal life more fulfilling. It does not deny the importance of studying how things go wrong, but rather to emphasize the importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right.

An idea struck Ni—to invite Ben-Shahar to teach the Chinese people how to live a happy life in the modern society.

How can the Chinese people be happy? Ben-Shahar believes the recipe is contained in the Chinese culture. "I have to admit that sometimes I'm quite envious of my Chinese colleagues who can abandon themselves in the traditional Chinese culture," said Ben-Shahar.

He said that in the pursuit of happiness, the Chinese people should resort to classics of ancient saints like the Tao Te Ching—a Taoist classic—and the Analects of Confucius.

The Tao Te Ching noted that people should "be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." "If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be truly fulfilled." "If someone can cherish a hope before the results come out, he has a talent." Ben-Shahar said these statements are full of wisdom.

In fact, many Chinese are trying to learn from Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist classics, and spread valuable thoughts to the public. Cai Lixu, an educationist, has been giving lectures on happy life at universities and communities both at home and abroad in recent years. His lectures have benefited a large number of people.

What's more, Cai practiced the teachings of ancient saints with concrete actions in his life.

"If you want to live a happy life, first of all, you should adjust your view of happiness," said Cai. He added when lost in finding happiness, one can always turn to the ancient Chinese wisdom for an answer.

Email us at: tangyuankai@bjreview.com

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