top of page

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?

There’s a saying that we have a choice to look at a cup half empty or half full. When we look at it half empty, it’ll cause us to be unhappy but if we change our perspective and look at it as being half full, there is joy and contentment.

Studies have been done to show the correlation between being grateful and being happy. And perhaps surprisingly, it’s not that happy people are grateful. It’s actually that grateful people are happy. What does that mean? People who choose to be grateful, who are thankful for what they have, are happier. Even if situations remain the same, if we can still choose to have gratitude, we can be happier.

Gratitude is a character strength that some people are naturally endowed with. There are some people who can always see the silver lining in a cloud and be thankful for it. However, like with any other character strength, gratitude is like a muscle that can be developed if used. The more we choose to practice gratitude, the more grateful we will become. And the more grateful we become, the happier we will be.

This year, Character Day is being celebrated in Hong Kong with the theme of gratitude on 22nd September. Schools, organisations and companies are signing up to join this citywide event and hosting activities that encourage their participants to grow in gratitude. For more information, visit

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” – William Arthur Ward

So what are you waiting for? Feel some gratitude and express it to someone! It could just be saying “ng goi saai” to 3 people every day. You’ll be happier for it and be making someone else happy too. Let’s create a virtuous cycle of gratitude in this city! "


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page