14th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) On 20th March, the International Day of Happiness, the United Nations released the 2024 World Happiness Report, a comprehensive global analysis ranking the life satisfaction of people across 143 countries. The findings reveal that while Finland retains its position at the pinnacle of global happiness, the city-state of Singapore and the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong present an intriguing contrast in the economics of happiness.

Singapore, consistently ranking as Asia’s happiest country, placed 30th globally despite a slight drop of five positions from the previous year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has seen a decline in its happiness ranking, slipping from 77th in 2021 to 86th in 2024. This decline is even more pronounced among the youth, with those under 30 ranking a dismal 97th.

These rankings provoke a deeper exploration into the relationship between wealth and happiness in these two dynamic economies. Both regions boast high GDP per capita, yet their citizens report vastly different levels of life satisfaction. This discrepancy invites a broader discussion on whether financial prosperity truly correlates with a sense of well-being.

Singapore’s high rank in the happiness index is primarily attributed to its strong economic performance, particularly in GDP per capita, which underscores its citizens’ high standard of living. However, this prosperity comes with its own set of challenges. Despite the economic affluence, many Singaporeans report long working hours and a high-pressure lifestyle, factors that have led to a decrease in the overall quality of life since 2016.

The 2022 Quality of Life Survey in Singapore indicated that despite rising median household income levels, Singaporeans are enjoying life less, with a noticeable drop in feelings of achievement, control, and purpose. This phenomenon, known as the Easterlin Paradox, suggests that beyond a certain income threshold, higher earnings do not necessarily lead to greater happiness.

Contrastingly, Hong Kong’s happiness rankings have been on a decline, challenging the notion that economic growth translates directly into personal well-being. This is particularly evident among the younger demographics, who feel the pressures of an intensely competitive environment. However, certain developments such as the relaxation of social-distancing measures and the distribution of government cash handouts have provided temporary boosts in public morale.

These measures, while effective in the short term, highlight a deeper, more systemic issue: the need for a sustainable model of well-being that transcends economic metrics. Hong Kong’s struggle with maintaining a high happiness index despite substantial financial resources highlights the complex dynamics between money and happiness.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong illustrate that financial wealth is only one facet of happiness. Psychological and social factors play a critical role in shaping overall life satisfaction. In Singapore, the relentless pursuit of material success has led to diminishing returns in terms of happiness. In Hong Kong, despite temporary uplifts from fiscal incentives, the overarching sentiment remains tinged with uncertainty and discontent.

This suggests that while money can alleviate the stresses of financial insecurity, it is less effective in enhancing daily happiness once basic needs are met. The pursuit of wealth, when unaccompanied by other forms of fulfilment such as social relationships and personal freedom, often fails to yield a proportional increase in life satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, known for its vibrant economy and status as a global financial hub, presents a paradox. The city’s economic indicators suggest wealth and prosperity, yet the lived experience of its residents tells a story of intense competition, high living costs, and significant social inequality. These factors contribute heavily to the overall sense of well-being or the lack thereof among its population.

The high cost of living, particularly housing affordability, is a critical stressor for many Hong Kong residents. The median house price in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world, which places immense pressure on both the younger and older generations. Young adults find it increasingly difficult to gain financial independence and secure housing, leading to delayed life milestones such as marriage and family planning. For the elderly, the fear of inadequate retirement savings can overshadow the twilight years of their lives.

Recent years have seen Hong Kong undergoing significant political and social changes, which have undoubtedly impacted public sentiment and personal happiness. The social unrest of 2019 and the subsequent political developments have created an atmosphere of uncertainty and discomfort for many residents. These events have not only affected Hong Kong’s international image but have also deeply influenced the daily lives and mental health of its people.

Public policy can play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. Policies aimed at improving housing affordability, healthcare, and elder care are crucial. Furthermore, increasing public engagement and trust in governmental decisions can help alleviate feelings of disenfranchisement and instability.

Culturally, Hong Kong is characterised by a strong work ethic and high parental expectations for academic and professional success. This cultural backdrop can lead to significant stress and anxiety from a young age. The city’s educational system, known for its competitiveness, places immense pressure on children and adolescents, which can extend into workplace stress in later life.

Mental health awareness in Hong Kong is growing, but there is still a stigma associated with seeking help for psychological distress. Enhancing mental health services and promoting a broader cultural acceptance of mental health issues are necessary steps towards improving overall happiness.

Interestingly, individuals in Hong Kong who perceive their living standards as better than those of their parents tend to report higher levels of happiness. This comparison with the past suggests that recognition of progress over generations could contribute positively to personal and collective well-being.

Looking forward, there is a need for policies that not only address economic growth but also promote inclusivity and social welfare. Encouraging community-driven initiatives, supporting small and medium enterprises, fostering arts and culture, and enhancing green spaces could contribute to higher life satisfaction.

Urban planning and development in Hong Kong must prioritise human-centric designs that foster community interaction and accessibility to nature, which are proven factors in enhancing happiness. Initiatives like creating more public recreational spaces, ensuring easy access to social services, and building inclusive residential areas can play a significant role in boosting residents’ happiness.

As Hong Kong navigates its complex socio-economic landscape, it becomes clear that while money is a necessary component for securing basic needs, it is not a panacea for happiness. The government, along with the private sector and community organisations, must work in concert to address the multifaceted challenges facing its people. Only by embracing a holistic approach that values mental health, social stability, and cultural inclusivity alongside economic achievements can Hong Kong hope to see an improvement in its happiness rankings in future editions of the World Happiness Report. This holistic approach will ensure that prosperity does not just remain an economic indicator but translates into real happiness and satisfaction among the residents of Hong Kong.