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May 20, 2011

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No guarantees on happiness

THE following people have been asked four questions, a simplified version of the happiness survey.

Are you happy with your current life? Score on a 0-10 scale. (0 for completely unhappy)

Have you achieved what you expected 10 years ago? Score on a 0-10 scale.

What is your happiest memory?

What is your unhappiest memory?

It has to be when I first arrived in the UK in 2006, also my first trip abroad. It was a complete eye-opening experience for me as I had only learned about the country from English classes, novels, films and TV dramas. It was also my first time away from home to experience real freedom, away from all the rules, regulations and decisions made by my parents, teachers and authorities. I loved the feeling of making choices for myself.

When my former boss helped me solve all the problems and papers related to schooling for my elder son. It is really a complicated, difficult and expensive process to have a migrant worker's child go to a good school. I really want my son to get a good education so that he won't have to do physical labors that I have been and probably will be doing for life. That is the biggest reason behind our moving here.

It is difficult to just find one happiest memory for me, because there have been a lot of such moments. If I have to pick one, I'll say it was my son's wedding ceremony six years ago. I was filled with pleasant tears. For older people like us, the marriage symbolizes how a child finally becomes a responsible adult, and as a mother, what is happier than witnessing your own child stepping into adulthood?

I was really happy to attend my son's graduation, probably one of the very few happy moments in my life. I thought that meant at least our son could lead a happy life. But I was also really sad that same day when he told me and my husband to behave well in front of his classmates so that he wouldn't lose face.

That has to be when I made my first 10,000 yuan a year after I quite the job, which is probably worth 1 million yuan now. At that time, someone with 10,000 yuan was called a rich man already. It was especially significant because nobody supported my bold decision to quit, especially since I was newly married and my son was barely two years old. So it was proof that I made the right decision.

The moment I started university I was determined to stay in the city so that I could lead a more successful life. It was more suffering than I expected. I remember my entire senior year as just nothing but endless tests and interviews for my tiny hope to get a job in Shanghai. So when I finally got my first job selling computers in a department store, I was really happy. I had imagined how this was the gateway on my road to success.

Jessica Chen

26, single, insurance agent

From Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province

Chen came to Shanghai three years ago after studying in the United Kingdom for a year in marketing. She complains about the crowded subway, inconvenience for people without household registration in Shanghai and high-living costs including rent.

Wang Runfu

36, married with two children, truck driver

From Qingyang Town, Anhui Province

Wang, a truck driver for 14 years, came alone six years ago and has done all kinds of jobs to make money - construction worker, truck driver, skyscraper window washer, security guard, and etc. Two years ago, his wife and two children moved to Shanghai.

Wang Xiaoling

57, married with a child, retired civil servant

From Yangpu District, Shanghai

Wang worked for a government affiliated enterprise until she retired two years ago. Her husband, one year older than Wang, will retire in two years. Wang has a five-year-old grandson. Wang now spends most of her time taking care of her grandson.

Wen Yaoqin

48, married with a child, laid off

From Huangpu District, Shanghai

Wen got laid off from a textile factory in 1995 and has since worked temporary jobs such as a housekeeper and shop assistant. Her husband got injured at work five years ago, and lost the case against his company.

Chen Yuanhao

51, married with two children, company owner

From Xuhui District, Shanghai

Chen bravely quit his rather admirable job from the government about 20 years ago and stepped into business among the early Chinese entrepreneurs. His investment company recently celebrated its 15th anniversary and he now plans to attend his son's graduation in the US in June.

Edward Li

32, married with a child, software engineer

From Yueyang City, Hunan Province

Li scored high in the National College Exam 14 years ago, which brought him to Shanghai University, and he stayed on to become a software engineer. He bought an apartment with a mortgage four years ago, just before getting married.

There isn't one memory that's most unhappy. Actually, since I came to Shanghai, I have felt less happy than before, especially when I work overtime in the office till midnight and still can barely afford to make ends meet. I also get irritated whenever my parents call to ask about my love life, about whether any guy is interested in me, on when I plan to get a guy and get married.

When I heard that my brother, also a truck driver, died in a highway robbery 10 years ago, I was extremely sad for his death, and also frightened for myself.

Probably the moment when I was rejected in the final interview for an air hostess job more than 30 years ago. I passed all the tests and interviews, but was finally rejected because not all my family members were farmers. You know, back then, farmers were most respected. That was sad, but when I look at it now, it's actually not that bad, and who knows whether I'd have been happier or less happy if I did become a flight attendant?

When my husband got injured at work and his factory only gave us 30,000 yuan (US$4,613) in compensation, far from enough to support our living. We sued the factory and lost the case. We also went to various departments but nobody cared to even call back or give a response. They kept kicking the ball to someone else. How can I be happy?

When my partner took 80 percent of our company's cash and fled overseas in 1996. That was a devastating catastrophe for me and my company, but it has all passed. Thanks to that horrible experience, I'm quite successful now.

When I found that getting through the gate doesn't guarantee success and that I actually haven't really succeeded. I'm also depressed because there is a lot of pressure to feed the family, offer the best to my daughter and to climb on that endless corporate ladder.


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