Ten years ago, information and story designer Alice Wong graduated from design school in Hong Kong with Happiness Index 4.14, a book about happiness. Her project was a response to a newspaper report that talked about a rise in public protesting by young people who were reportedly unhappier and less hopeful than their parents.

For the book, Wong interviewed eighty “post-80s” about their sense of satisfaction with life and their views on the future.

“Back then the term post-80s in Hong Kong was a real pejorative,” Wong says. “It implied a generation of people who were sloppy, irresponsible and selfish, like all they thought about was themselves.”

The term post-80s was mostly touted by the older generation of Hong Kongers – born in the 50s and 60s – who regarded themselves as more stable, hard-working and responsible.

“They were uncomfortable with how the post-80s were so individualistic, how they were so quick to complain, step forward and speak up,” Wong says. “They didn’t really understand the point of social engagement, or the need to be so vocal about political progress, and universal suffrage.”

On the other hand, the post-80s didn’t take democracy for granted, and had disdain for those who did. They were wary of authority, critical of the system, and less willing to compromise on their beliefs.

The rift between the generations grew.

And yet for all their apparent self-absorption, the post-80s generation never performed particularly well on the national happiness index – a survey where respondents evaluated the quality of their current life on a scale of 1 to 10.  In 2010 the post-80s scored on average 4.14, below the national average of 7.10. They were more educated, but faced lower salaries and longer working hours.  Only one out of four felt there was any chance that they would ever achieve their goals and more than 40% of this group felt a mid to severe level of anxiety at work, more than double the previous generation.

In Happiness Index 4.14, Wong showed a portrait of eighty post-80s who answered a series of questions about their lives. Many also provided a small sketch of what their idea of “home happiness” might look like.

Now, 10 years on, Wong has revisited some of the first participants in the book – taken a new picture and asked them the same set of questions to gauge how their view on happiness has changed and what sort of future they think Hong Kong is facing.

The high definition close-up portrait shots leave a deep impression of imperfection.

Interestingly, on a different happiness index, Hong Kongers today rate themselves on average at a 6.15. The post-80s generation come in at 6.42, suggesting that the generations that came up after them are even less satisfied with life.  (GK)

(left) Yan Poon, 2010, Happiness Index 4.14 (right) Yan Poon, 2020, Happiness Index 4.14


Date of birth: 1988-11-21 | Male | University student – multimedia management


Self-introduction: I am very good at making jokes and love to be the centre of attention. I enjoy listening to music, playing guitar, and wandering around in the streets by myself without purpose. My relationship with my parents is traditional, we don’t talk much, but I love them. My father is very chatty and humorous, but not with his family and I am quite similar to him. My mum doesn’t know how to communicate at all.

  1. How do you define happiness?

I think happiness is a feeling of ease. But more generally when the weather is cool, I feel happy, and when the weather is hot, I get agitated. Happiness is from within. It comes from the heart.

  1. How do you obtain happiness?

Having dinner and joking around with a group of friends. If they laugh at my jokes, it makes me happy, and I feel a sense of success.

  1. Are you happy?

Most of the time.  I don’t like being home alone at night. That is when I tend to reflect upon my shortcomings, especially pondering the issue of my recent break-up.

  1. Do you think in general the post-80s are a happy group?

Not really. Observing my two older brothers, I see they have a lot of built-up resentment from work due to long working hours, and low salaries. In general, people think that men should earn more than their partners, and gradually I think this is becoming a very difficult thing to achieve. Pursuing material [things] is stressful – buying a house, a car, those goals are hard to achieve these days. Also, I hear many people complaining about not having many friends and that generates a lot of negative energy. It seems a lot in my generation don’t adjust their goals realistically based to their situation, or at least they have goals, but don’t actively do much to achieve them.

  1. What is your most unhappy moment?

I dated a girl for 15 months. She was socially engaging with a very boyish personality and was beautiful. Many suitors chased after her, and she enjoyed it a lot. It really stressed me out and we ended up in a love triangle and eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore and decided to confront the other guy. I bumped into them hugging and I told him that I was her boyfriend. All she did was sit on his lap and kiss him. That was impressive.

  1. Do you have a dream?

To have a simple, conventional family who all get along well.  I really feel a lack of love and I want to find someone who can love and care about me.

  1. How do you see Hong Kong’s future?

The housing will be expensive. I can’t imagine my role, but I suppose I will not be someone who has a great impact on society.

2020 | Update

Update: Right now I am on a holiday in Japan, working in a small hotel. I worked in Hong Kong for many years, but I needed to find a better way to enjoy my life so I left. Now it is much better. I don’t earn much, but I am very happy. The main problem is that Hong Kong is not suitable for living.

  1.   How do you define happiness?

For me it’s when you have no worries. Simplicity is happiness. Ten years ago it was more about instant gratification and now what I want is more slow paced and less like a roller coaster. I like to be worry-free and comfortable. In Japan people see I am a foreigner and initiate a chat. I like this feeling of getting to know each other, but it only happens when there is no stress. Hong Kong is so much more stressful, and it feels like people who start a conversation have a hidden agenda.

  1.   How do you obtain happiness?

For me it is still about the weather. I like to go cycling, and to meet with friends.  This seems so pure – a bit silly and simple. I like the brotherhood of just sitting.

  1.   Are you happy?

Yes, I am very happy. Recently I went camping with my Japanese friends to a lake near Kyoto with around 20 people. There were people from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, all mixed together. I felt so happy. I don’t see this sort of thing in Hong Kong. There is no space and people have no time.

  1.   Do you think in general the post-80s are a happy group?

I don’t think they are happy. Everything is so expensive, especially housing. Everyone has this stereotypical idea that by your early 30s you have to be settled. But in Hong Kong that only works if you are rich – it’s a place that only serves the wealthy. For a house you need a mortgage that you must pay for 40 or 50 years. You can’t travel or afford any entertainment. It’s like someone is squeezing on your balls. I have many friends who suffer from panic attacks; they have psychological issues. I think they are very unhappy.

  1.   What is your most unhappy moment?

Last year when I was still in Hong Kong I felt really powerless, like I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help with the political situation. I needed to stop reading the news. The thought of returning is a nightmare. It gives me a feeling of sadness and panic.

  1.   Do you have a dream?

I want to live without worries.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to get married, but probably it is not my aim now. I just want to carry on with this more individual lifestyle.

  1.   How do you see Hong Kong’s future?

It can’t get any worse and I think it will have a future, but not for 20 or 30 years. I have connected friends who say it will just become more like China. Last year was overwhelming, the Hong Kong government did not even try to hide that they are simply following orders from China.

I am just very surprised by how dedicated and amazing the younger generation are. They are really intelligent which gives me some faith. Our hardware is hopeless, but our software is hopeful. We need to wait until they become the core, the majority, the ones who can make decisions and can change society and politics.

 (left) Yam Cham, 2010, Happiness Index 4.14 (right) Yam Cham, 2020, Happiness Index 4.14


Date of birth: 1988-4-14 | Male | Fashion designer


Self-introduction: I am an only child and I’ve been desperately seeking love. When I was small, my cousin visited and stayed with me for a few days, I was really happy that we could play together, but when she left, I cried for more than 10 days. Probably because I have been so alone, I cherish moments spent with others. I believe we have to capture love when there is love. I am a homosexual male. I tried to like woman, but I failed.

  1. How do you define happiness?

Happiness means I can kiss whomever I like. Happiness is love, no matter if it’s giving or taking.

  1. How do you obtain happiness?

Don’t be stingy with love, don’t seek any rewards. If you love someone seriously, you will naturally gain the ideal return.

  1. Are you happy?

Happy with my friends, unhappy with my love.

  1. Do you think in general the post-80s are a happy group?

Post-80s think that they are not gaining as much as the previous generations, who work harder and have closer relationships. The post-80s need to shift their focus and realize they have more advanced technology and better communication. They can reach people more easily. Young people are facing more problems, it’s getting severe and they overthink.

  1. What is your happiest memory?

When I was with my lover. We both have many similarities; many friends aren’t able to distinguish the difference between us. We love fashion design, playing piano, cooking, we share similar thoughts and behave in similar ways. My happiest moments are when I am with him or with friends.

  1. What is your most unhappy memory?

I take love too seriously. The unhappiest thing that ever happened to me was to break up with him.

  1. Do you have a dream?

To find a balance between love and work and to become an admirable and reputable fashion designer who can contribute to society. I want to work on more interesting things, experiment more.

2020 | Update

Update: I guess you can say things really changed for me these past 10 years. I have moved to Taiwan and I no longer really believe in fashion design – it is useless.  Simplicity is enough. I am no longer as passionate as I was. I think it is probably because I have experienced too much, my boyfriend has been cheating on me for the past four years. I don’t find anything trustworthy anymore and I want to act a bit more heartless myself. There is no need to take everything so seriously.

I guess I have matured. I have also become more active on Tinder to just explore. I miss Hong Kong a lot, my friends as well. Because of the coronavirus, no one can travel or visit me now.

  1. How do you define happiness?

It is about being simple, peaceful, safe, and satisfied. It is about love and being loved.

  1. Are you happy?

Not really. I have ups and downs. I am not sad, just calm.

  1. Do you think in general the post-80s are a happy group?

They are not happy because of the political situation in Hong Kong. Friends of mine are bothered by the situation and have psychological problems – overworked, depressed.  There is no positive news.

  1. What is your most unhappy memory?

Due to the political situation my family had to move to Taiwan from Hong Kong. It’s like a nightmare, like a thriller.

  1. Do you have a dream?

I don’t have a job here and I’m just selling vinyl and toys online. The salaries are low here.

  1. Do you think Hong Kong will have a future and why?

There will be a tipping point, we will hit rock bottom, and only then it will get better. What will emerge is something new – not the Hong Kong we knew. Ten years ago I couldn’t foresee this, the influence of China is happening so fast. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Alice Wong is a 2020 Beazley Designs of the Year award nominee.