OPINION COLUMN by CELENE P. LOO (published in December Baccarat magazine)

Does this City Need God?

“I find your lack of faith . . . disturbing.” – Darth Vader

It’s my favourite time of the year. Christmas. The grandeur of decorative lights, the smell of Christmas trees and mistletoe, the comfort of gingerbread and, yes, the fun shopping for special presents for loved ones!

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the God for Christians. Today, of course, Christmas is celebrated around the world by non-Christians, but not for its religious origin. Which leads me to wonder: Does this city believe in God? Do we need God? Are we happy?

I did a random check with friends, business associates and charity volunteers. Many said that this city’s spirit is in despair. A psychologist friend remarked: “You should hear what some of my patients say. People are desperately unhappy and nervous. The problem is, this society has a stigma against people suffering from depression, so such problems are often shovelled under wraps.” A banker friend confided: “The incessant competition and peer pressure cause me such acute stress that I can only sleep with the aid of sleeping pills. I also let off steam by gambling in Macau with my buddies.” Declared a married friend: “Infidelity is rampant in this society; many marriages are broken.” Perhaps beneath the facade of ostentatious affluence, the people are shattered.

According to a survey conducted by Gallup International, two-thirds of Hong Kong people do not believe in any religion. This makes Hong Kong the LEAST religious country in Asia and the seventh most non-religious country in the world.

Stability & Social Standing

In an attempt to understand this phenomenon, I looked at the history of this Pearl of the Orient. Hong Kong people have long harboured a ‘refugee’ mentality. Refugees have a low sense of belonging and stability and are constantly on the move. Hong Kong focused its energy on accumulating wealth as a means of security and status, and everything else, like environment, healthcare and religion, became secondary. Religion to a typical Hong Kong person is the annual pilgrimage to Wong Tai Sin temple to plead for prosperity or the home or office consultation with a fung-shui master.

Prior to 1997, better-off families hedged their fear of Communist China by migrating to countries like Canada and Australia. The brain drain slowed down drastically post handover and families started to return from overseas in large numbers. For the first time in Hong Kong’s history, the people felt a sense of national pride and affinity. Scepticism over Beijing’s intentions subsided. Hong Kong people began to see this glittering city as their long-term home.

In spite of international perceptions of an opulent society, the standard of living for an average person is dismal. Barely a quarter of Hong Kong families live what could be described as a middle-class lifestyle. It may come as a surprise that only 15 per cent own cars and 90 per cent live in homes smaller than 700 square feet – significantly smaller than the average apartment size in Shenzhen, China!

Wealth & Happiness

Regardless, does wealth bring happiness? Based on findings from the Hong Kong Happiness Index 2009 conducted by Lingnan University, the lower income group (households of US$2,500 per month) is actually happier than the higher income group (US$5,000). Females are happier than males. People with religious beliefs and who do volunteer work are significantly happier than those without.

And how does Hong Kong compare with other countries? According to a survey conducted by the World Database of Happiness and published in Forbes magazine in July, Costa Rica is the happiest nation out of 148. Costa Rica? Where is that? Do they even have basic amenities?

Latin and Scandinavian countries came out tops in the happiness surveys. One reason, perhaps, is a cultural emphasis on social capital over financial capital. The people in South America and Nordic countries place a greater emphasis on relationships with family and friends. Living well. Smelling the wondrous nature. Having a balanced body and spiritual well being.

My biggest surprise was Israel, a country known as ‘God’s country’ to Jews and Christians, but a nation plagued with incessant war, sandwiched by hostile neighbours. Yet it came in as the eighth happiest nation in the world. Perhaps having a God, finding some sort of spiritual refuge, is key to one’s life and happiness.

Have a blessed Christmas.


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4 Responses to OPINION COLUMN by CELENE P. LOO (published in December Baccarat magazine)

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  3. Towninvisse says:

    I hope I’m better today than I was yesterday. I don’t believe in glory days or anything like that, so I think the best is tomorrow or later this afternoon!

  4. atticierm says:

    I guess I don’t have a proper perspective on my fame; if I did, I don’t think I’d like it.

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