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Tuesday, December 24, 2019, 00:26
Seven simple life lessons help us cope with a divided society
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, December 24, 2019, 00:26 By Ho Lok-sang

2019 has been a year of commotion, anxiety, and stress. Professor Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong used the term “mental health epidemic” to describe our present predicament. His research team surveyed 1,200 people between June 22 and July 7 and found that 9.1 percent of them were considered to have probable depression, while 4.6 percent said they had suicidal thoughts.

The commotion and unhappiness have arisen because Hong Kong is now so polarized that it is almost certain that every day, we come across people with views diametrically different from ours, and because what we aspire for seems so remote to us. Most people tend to be unhappy when their views are challenged. Most people feel frustrated when what they believe to be reasonable seems to be forever eluding us.

The hardest to accept, for many of us, is that Hong Kong seems to be so foreign to us. The Hong Kong that we see now does not correspond with the Hong Kong that we knew.

Since most of us actively participate in some social chat groups or in other social media, we are bombarded with so much information or disinformation that only serves to confuse. The “mental health epidemic” has a new channel to spread — one that was simply nonexistent just a decade ago. The ubiquitous Facebook was not open to everyone over 13 until September 2006.

As someone who has studied happiness for decades, and one who had started annual Hong Kong happiness surveys since 2005, I do have some suggestions for anyone who wants to stay mentally healthy. Here are my seven tips to stay happy and positive.

The first tip, and the most important one, must be: “Be yourself and be truthful with yourself.”

'Stay away from violence and abusive language.' Many people pour abuse and scorn on those who hold views different from theirs, and some may even resort to violent behavior. Stay clear of them for self-protection

Many people understand this to mean that you don’t have to try to please anyone, and that it is fine to stay the person we are. But this does not mean that we must not change. It only means that we must not change just because other people expect us to. It does mean that we should change as we learn in our life journeys. Being truthful with ourselves requires genuine reflection and learning, and not letting our prejudices and our arrogance obstruct our change and growth.

The second tip is: “Understand that our learning is our responsibility; their learning is their responsibility.”

We may be frustrated when other people do not buy our views. We may think that we have good reasons to believe we are right, but we could still be wrong. So we should continue to reflect and learn. If other people stick to their views, and we think they are plain wrong, it is not our responsibility to change their views. It is never useful or helpful to argue with those with deep-seated beliefs. We exchange views only with those who are open-minded and sincerely seek to better themselves.

The third tip is: “Understand that we can and should do what we can to achieve a better world, but many things are beyond our control.”

I am sure that many of those in the “yellow” camp and those in the “blue” camp want to strive for a better Hong Kong. They think and act differently because their perceptions and interpretation of what is going on are different. This is not a problem, as long as they respect each other as fellow citizens who are entitled to their rights. But we must not dictate our wishes on others. That will only cause animosity, and will be destructive to our social fabric.

The fourth tip is: “Communication is only possible under mutual respect; walk away from those who do not show respect.”

Mutual respect is especially important within the family. Members of the family are dear to us, and we live together or at least meet often. So remember to give other family members the respect that they deserve. Can we say someone does not deserve our respect because he or she does something alien to our values? The answer is no. If someone does something alien to our values, we disagree with them, but we still need to respect them as a person. Why? Respecting a person as a person is necessary if we want them to come around, and if we want to communicate. After all, we all need to learn.

The fifth tip is: “Stay away from violence and abusive language.” Many people pour abuse and scorn on those who hold views different from theirs, and some may even resort to violent behavior. Stay clear of them for self-protection.

The sixth tip is: “Cut losses, and never aggravate losses.” If an unfortunate incident has taken place, and we have incurred some losses, financial, emotional, or physical, whatever, it is important not to add to the losses by reminiscing over them.

The seventh tip is: “Actively engage yourself to do something you like.” Whether it is singing, sport, card games, art, or hiking, keep yourself busy. That will add colors to your life and help leave unhappiness behind.

The author is a senior research fellow at Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute at Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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