Almost 45 percent of Chinese people are happy, according to the 2010 Survey of Economic Lifestyles conducted by China Central Television (CCTV). Results of the national survey were released on January 12, and only about 11 percent of those surveyed said they were unhappy. Results are based on data from more than 80,000 respondents.
China Economic Weekly analyzed the results:
Using the same sampling method as the China economic census conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the survey covered 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, 104 cities and 300 counties.
The fact that individuals with an annual family income below 50,000 yuan ($7,580) accounted for 85 percent of respondents reflected that the survey was conducted mainly among ordinary people.
"In terms of statistics, the coverage and the structure of respondents, the survey represents the basic situation of China's ordinary people," said Yao Jingyuan, the NBS's chief economist.
Wealth and happiness
According to the survey, income may be a double-edged sword. At lower income levels, more income corresponds to greater happiness. However, at higher income levels this relationship breaks down.
The positive effect of income on happiness is obvious in families with income less than 20,000 yuan ($3,000) per year, which represents about half of all families in China. For high-income families, however, the relationship of income to happiness is less clear. For example, the percentages of "very happy" and "very unhappy" people in high-income families are both higher than the average.
The survey shows people's perception of happiness is closely related with their anticipated income. Among those who anticipated an increase in income, 61 percent were happy and 9 percent were unhappy. In contrast, only 29 percent of those expecting a decrease in income were happy, while an additional 29 percent of this group were unhappy.
Money isn't everything
The survey also shows that health, age and education have big effects on people's perception of happiness.
People over 60 years of age generally have a strong sense of happiness, suggesting older people have learned how to enjoy life. Their happiness is also due to fewer material demands as well as a sense of optimism. Since they have more self-knowledge, they can face problems better and be more tolerant.
Middle-aged people—those from 36 to 59 years old—have an average level of happiness. Their happiness mainly comes from their accomplishments in life while their unhappiness mainly comes from the burdens of work and family.
Young people—from 18 to 36 years old—have the lowest level of happiness. This is directly related to their low income level, difficulty finding suitable employment and the huge gap between their expected and actual income.
The results of similar surveys from 2006 to 2009 show that education increases people's happiness. Among people who are "very unhappy," people with little education account for the highest percentage, while those with a high educational level account for the lowest percentage.
The survey also shows the importance of health to happiness. Sixty percent of happy people counted health as the main factor in determining happiness. This result suggests a connection to China's current health care system. In the current system, sick individuals must often deal with enormous medical bills on top of health problems, and this places a premium on remaining healthy in China.
Meanwhile, among "unhappy" and "very unhappy" people, insurance and social welfare were the most important factors. For these people, increasing social services, interpersonal interaction and the formation of communities could directly reduce their unhappiness.
Hindrances to happiness
The survey also shows that different groups of people have almost the same obstacles to feeling happy. Low income, housing problems and deficiencies in medical care are the three main elements that reduce people's perception of happiness. What this means is that the overall situation of most Chinese people is similar—they now have adequate food and clothing, but many other problems still exist.
Among "very unhappy" people, employment and housing were the biggest problems. This suggests that creating more and better paying jobs is the key to improving the situation of this group.
Having a house and a car is seen by many Chinese as the symbol of a better life, but do they really add to happiness?
The survey shows that housing prices have an impact on people's happiness.
People who expect housing prices to fall are more likely to feel happy than others, whereas people who expect housing prices to rise by 5-10 percent are about as happy as other people on average. In contrast, among people who expect housing prices to increase by more than 10 percent, the percentage of "unhappy" and "very unhappy" people increases drastically.
The change in housing prices has two effects: When housing prices rise, people who don't own a house feel more economic pressure, thus lowering their sense of happiness. On the other hand, people who already own a house are happier, since the value of their property has increased.
The survey also asked about people's car-purchase plans. According to the survey, happiness is correlated with the price of the car a person plans to buy. For example, the percentage of very happy people is highest among people who expect to buy cars worth between 150,000 yuan ($23,000) and 300,000 yuan ($45,000). Generally speaking, the more expensive the car a respondent plans to buy, the happier the person is.
However, the percentage of unhappy people also increases with increasing car price. The survey shows that of people who plan to buy cars worth more than 300,000 yuan, 19.4 percent are unhappy, much higher than the percentage of people who plan to buy cars in other price ranges.
Ranking by region
A comparison of surveys from 2006 to 2009 shows that a province or region's "happiness ranking" can fluctuate over time. For example, Tibet ranked 18th overall in happiness in 2007, 19th in 2008 and first in 2009.
Economically developed areas don't have an obvious advantage in terms of happiness, and are, in fact, ranked in the middle of the list. Although developed areas show less fluctuation, people's feeling of happiness is no better than in undeveloped areas.
Research on similar surveys found that a country's affluence has a strong positive impact on people's overall happiness. Wealthy countries, for example, often have happier populations than poorer countries, since richer countries can devote more resources to social welfare, health services, care for older people and equitable income distribution.
Increases of income, however, create a bigger happiness effect for poor people than for richer people. For this reason, China should try to increase the incomes of poorer families. The government should also increase public spending on health, environmental protection, and other areas that directly improve people's quality of life and happiness.