Opulence and squalor usually seem worlds apart. Country clubs usually don’t border low-income housing, designer clothing stores purposefully keep access to their goods limited to only a certain clientele (if you haven’t seen the movie Pretty Woman, watch it and you’ll get the reference), and the checking accounts that most people take for granted are a privilege offered only to people who have quality credit. Yet, I just experienced an exception to this rule.
I just landed in Kunming, which is a town in southwestern China. My hosts Xinyue Zhou, Ding-guo Gua, and I flew here to attend the biennial Asian Association of Social Psychology conference. (We’re usually in a town called Guangzhou, which is located in south central China.)
Kunming is simply gorgeous. I’m staying at a beautiful resort called the “Crystal Place.” It has a huge pool, waterfalls, and the biggest koi pond (and koi fish) I’ve ever seen. They call Kunming the “Spring City” because the weather is like spring all year. It’s about 26 degrees Celsius, which is about 78 degrees back home. That’s quite a difference from the 36 degree (97 degrees Fahrenheit!) days I had back in Guangzhou.
On my way to class this morning, I saw one of my students gazing at the beautiful scenery surrounding the classroom building. His English name is Garden (he’s next to me in the attached photo). We talked for a bit and then Garden asked me a question I had never been asked, “Are all Americans happy?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I told Garden that his question intrigued me, and I asked him what led him to ask me whether all Americans are happy. He told me that I seemed quite happy, even happier than most people he sees every day. Because I’m the first American he’s ever met, he wondered if most Americans were like me. Garden said that he believes Chinese people don’t wear a smile on their faces that much, possibly because they have a lot to worry about.
There are cultural differences in happiness. People from France are happier than people from America, whereas Americans are happier than people from Finland. But what I think is more important is how similar people are in what makes them happy. Whether you live in China or America, having positive and lasting relationships – the sort of strong social connections that Wired seeks to cultivate – is a key to happiness.
Off DeWall: Wired co-Director Goes to China (July 20, 2011)
Wired has the mission of connecting members of the UK family with each other and our local and global communities. This is my first blog entry to show you how I live this mission. I’m in the air right now, on my way to China. I’ll be there for a month doing a bunch of different things devoted to connecting members of the UK family to the global community.
First, I’ll be teaching a short course to Chinese students at Sun Yat-Sen University, which is located in a town called Guangzhou (pronounced GWAN-JOE). It’s in the Southern Part of China, making it something like the Miami of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). I’ll teach psychology students about social psychological research—how to do it, how to evaluate it, and how to get excited about it. I’ll focus on my areas of interest: interpersonal relationships, self-control, and aggression.
Second, I’ll give a speech to the School of Psychology on my research program on how people respond to social exclusion. I relish the opportunity to share the research we’ve conducted at the University of Kentucky with the Chinese faculty and students.