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Connexion: Yes, money can buy health and happiness

By Joachim Ng

It is commonly and mistakenly believed that the Chinese mainly worship the god of prosperity, because the four most spoken words during the Lunar New Year celebrations are Gong Xi Fa Cai or “May You Be Prosperous”. 

Actually, the god of prosperity is just one in a famous triumvirate, the other two being the god of health and the god of happiness or longevity. Visit any CNY exhibition and you are sure to find statues of three wise men whom the Chinese call Fook, Luk, Sau. 

Fook is merely a statuesque depiction of the Chinese spirit of mutual prosperity that owes its origin to the practice of large-scale rice planting and irrigation requiring farmers to pull their resources together. Out of this collective spirit has emerged the idea that everyone should prosper, as the Chinese believe that poverty is contagious like an infectious disease. One poor family will multiply and become many poor families.

Hence the Gong Xi Fa Cai greeting is accompanied by a red ang pow containing money given to the needy, especially persons who cannot afford to get married. It was never meant for spoilt kids, such as the schoolboy in Taiwan who last month angrily threw his ang pow on the ground in front of the giver because it contained only NT$1,000 (RM144). In ancient days, such a brat would be thrown into an irrigation ditch.

But the god of prosperity is never alone. In his company are the god of health and the god of happiness or longevity. Why is the god of health always standing beside the god of prosperity? It is because you need money to buy nutritious food, and without healthcare the destitute can’t get out of poverty. 

Without money you can’t look after your body as the only free things are rain, air, and sunshine. Without proper nutrition, the destitute will remain this way for generations. Lack of nutrition affects brain development, resulting in poor children growing up to become poor adults who beget poor children. 

As poverty and health are linked together, the Gong Xi Fa Cai greeting should be coupled with the equally important Sun Tai Gin Hong or “Wish You Good Health” greeting. Keep saying Sun Tai Gin Hong until COVID-19 goes away.

The third person in the trinity—Sau or longevity—is actually the outcome of happiness. During the festive season you must exchange Xin Nian Kuai Le or “Happy New Year” greetings with others as there is power in words to bestow happiness. To live a long life, you must live happily. 

However, you can’t live happily without health and wealth. In regards to health, there is no dispute. If you are dogged by severe chronic illnesses that sap your energy, it is obvious that you can’t be happy and your life will be short.

What about money? Do you need money to be happy? Can you be happy without money? No you can’t, although you can pretend to be happy. Aren’t the swamis, yogis, priests, monks and nuns happy without money? Personally they may not have money, but they get abundant free nutritious meals provided by their supporters every day. And they don’t have to pay rent as they get free comfortable housing.

The more money you make, the better you feel day-to-day and the more satisfied you are with life overall. This is the finding by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, USA, released in January 2021 after a detailed study that tracked 33,000 respondents’ moods at random times during their waking hours.

Rising income produces more happiness by granting you better control over your life, the study found. For one thing, it reduces stress by enabling you to pay all your bills. If you’re sweating over your bills month in and month out, you can’t be happy and you can’t live long.

Money can buy you home products such as vacuum cleaners to help you save time on housework. Of bigger value is that money buys you security, as you can live in a gated and guarded community without fear that if you fall asleep you may awake to the presence of a vicious robber in your bedroom. The poor don’t have this security and may lose even the little they have. 

Nationwide, only 48% of Malaysians are happy. Kinta Valley does better than Klang Valley where only 39% of people are happy. The difference in their ratings shows that the cost of living and crime levels are higher in Klang Valley. So if you’re comfortable in Ipoh, stay put. 

Global surveys on happiness place Malaysia in 80th position only. In 79 other countries, the people are happier. No wonder some Malaysians go overseas with the intention of not returning.

Just as money affects health and happiness, so too does your level of happiness affect health and your ability to hold a good job. If you’re constantly unhappy, you will fall sick and you may struggle with your duties at work. 

Always remember that the three gods — Fook, Luk, Sau — never come alone for they are three amigos. If you can get one to come, the other two will follow. But if one goes away, the other two may also follow him and depart. The worst situation in life is to be unhappy, sick and poor. Aim to be prosperous, healthy and happy. And wish this for everyone in your society.

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Joachim Ng

A veteran interfaith researcher and science enthusiast, Joachim Ng has acquired more than 45 years of research experience in studying the world's scriptures and harmonising them with latest scholarly findings in many disciplines especially science and spirituality. In the 1980s, he penned a weekly interfaith column that won him a Promotion of Unity award from the Malaysian Press Institute. In addition to five earlier books, he has delivered papers at international conferences held in New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Assisi near Rome. A Master's degree holder from the University of Hull, UK, he is a former chairman of the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship and the recipient of an Ambassador for Peace award conferred by the Universal Peace Federation.

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