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The Key to Happiness

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 29, 2017)

"I was sitting in a car on my way to a doctor’s appointment the other day and it was pouring with rain. People walking on the streets were scurrying through the crowds with their umbrellas overhead, rushing to get to their destinations before getting more soaked. Cars were jam packed on the roads and windshield wipers were violently thrashing on the window to get the rain water off long enough so that drivers could see. I sat in the car replying emails on my phone, making use of my journey that was taking longer than usual.

We were going down a steep incline and then stopped at the red light, behind a row of cars. Suddenly, to my surprise, my Uber driver rolls down his window when it was still raining outside. Then I hear someone shouting. “Move forward! You’re blocking the road! Can’t you see that I’m driving 16 people and you’re in the way!” Turns out the mini bus driver behind us was not pleased that we had a 3 metre gap between our car and the car in front and hence decided to shout at my driver. My driver politely listens then rolls up his window then turns to me to explain that he needs to leave a gap because of the condition of the wet road on a steep incline, to ensure our safety. To which I said to him “ng goi saai” for keeping us safe, despite having gotten shouted at for it.

But what I realized after leaving that incident is that it wasn’t because of the rain that made the minibus driver shout at us. It wasn’t even because of the 3 metre gap. It was because he was essentially not happy. And unhappy people have a tendency to make others unhappy. Who knows what was happening in this minibus driver’s life? Maybe it was a family problem or a health issue; or that he had just been shouted at by someone else. Whatever the case, he was unhappy and it made it easy for him to lash out.

And unfortunately, there are a lot of unhappy people in Hong Kong. And it’s true that they may have a lot to be unhappy about, perhaps like the minibus driver, but it then perpetuates a cycle of unhappiness. Unhappy people are more likely to lash out, judge, blame and criticize others, creating a chain of unhappiness. So what is the antidote to this unhappiness?