Only 6 percent of Chinese people see themselves as happy, despite the government’s efforts to improve the population’s sense of happiness, a survey showed on Wednesday.
The proportion was in stark contrast to Denmark, which topped another recent poll. There, 82 percent described themselves as happy in a sampling carried out by Gallup World Poll. That poll ranked China 125th in a table of worldwide happiness.
The Gallup World Poll surveyed respondents in 155 countries between 2005 and 2009 and measured their overall satisfaction with their lives and daily experiences.
The Chinese happiness survey was conducted by the information portal china.com.cn. The portal polled about 1,350 Web users ahead of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, where the call for more happiness is likely to be a key theme.
The china.com.cn research shows that nearly 40 percent of Chinese people believe that happiness is determined by how wealthy a person is. The second most important factor is “psychological pressure”, which was tipped by 27 percent of respondents.
But it was not all bad news. About 36 percent of respondents said their lives had improved during the past five years.
Those living in first-tier cities were the least contented, feeling more pressure because of high-price housing and traffic congestion than their counterparts in smaller towns and cities.
Zhang Jing, a 25-year-old procurement agent at a Shanghai-based foreign-invested company, described her life as “unexciting” to China Daily, saying entertainment was rare.
“More than one-third of my salary goes on the rent and the rest has to cover transportation and food. In the end, my disposable income is almost nothing,” she said.
Zhang said the pressure that she is facing is common among young people in metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai, despite the fact that the generation may be enjoying a “relatively more comfortable life than their parents”.
At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty following three decades of rapid economic growth, the government is trying to shift its focus from growth to enhancing social fairness and a “sharing of the fruits of reform and development among all people”.
Premier Wen Jiabao emphasized the issues “essential to people’s happiness”, which included ensuring social equality and justice, when he answered questions raised by Web users on Sunday.
Wen pledged to improve people’s sense of security and their confidence in the future, saying “improving people’s livelihood” was the key issue in the country’s next five-year plan.
Zhang Lifan, a well-known expert on China’s modern history, noted that it is imperative that the government redistributes the fruits of economic development so more people benefit because the widening wealth gap is “tearing society apart”.
According to a World Bank report, the Gini coefficient for China is now close to 0.5, which points to an unequal distribution of income that could lead to social unrest. On the Gini coefficient, 0.4 is considered as the threshold of serious inequality.
Liu Shanying, a political science researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that in addition to the wealth gap between rich and poor some people feel unhappy because they do not feel respected.
“The feeling of being respected, being free of pain and intellectually engaged, among others, all contribute to an individual’s feeling of happiness,” Liu said.