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Blessed are those who are happy

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2012-10-22 10:19

Blessed are those who are happy

Pang Li/ China Daily

Happiness does not go in lockstep with prosperity. It requires more than a basic level of affluence. It often denotes an exquisite balance in life. Raymond Zhou explores the markers.

If someone thrusts a microphone under your nose and ask you "Are you happy?" What would you say?

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Thousands of people across China have had that peculiar encounter and the responses are more hilarious than predictable.

For one thing, there are interviewees who did not even get the question. As Chinese is a language full of homonyms, quite a few respondents mistook the question to be, "Is your surname Fu?" (Happiness is xingfu in the Chinese language and xing () is pronounced the same as , or surname.) So, one replied: "My last name is Zeng." It turned into a joke that fell on the reporter rather than the target of the camera.

China Central Television, the country's national TV network, is conducting an ongoing survey nationwide, starting from late September, on the level of satisfaction among ordinary people. You have to give it credit for broadcasting snippets that normally belong to outtakes, thus taking on an air of off-the-cuff realism.

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For those inured to cut-and-dried quotes, the candid camera moments are a little dizzying. It does not help when the reporters do not precede the question with small talk.

One revelation from the television footage is how private this question can be. Many were at pains to evade it, with some simply turning away in embarrassment.

Blessed are those who are happy

It dawned on me that happiness - or the lack of it - is not something everyone wants to share with the rest of the world. The facial expressions of some of the respondents who kept silent once they clearly heard the question remind me of the awkwardness that often accompanies a sociological probe into someone's sex life.

There are some who blurt out, "I'm happy!" But strangely, the exaggeration they display often imbues their words with a palpable overtone of sarcasm. It is rare to see a Chinese who is not on a drinking binge to show the joy of life in such a manner. It is like bad acting.

The most credible answers tend to be a follow-up to a brief discussion of the definition of "happiness". Mo Yan, the new Nobel laureate for literature, perhaps gave the best answer when he was thrown the de rigeur question.

"I don't know," he said, going on to define happiness as "not thinking of anything, being healthy and free from any pressure. I have so much pressure and worry right now. How can I be happy? But if I say I'm not happy, people will say I'm pretentious."

Obviously, the writer of Red Sorghum has hit the bull's eye by separating excitement or gladness, which is momentary, from the higher and more permanent state of contentment.

That sentiment is shared by several interviewees who emphasized "no pressure" as a prerequisite for seventh heaven.

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