Happiness matters

Happiness matters

Daniel Wong knows all about being an academic success but miserable in life. He tells Mabel Sieh how he found joy

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Daniel Wong Happiness_L
Photo: Daniel Wong
Daniel Wong was a top student since he was seven. At 18, he received a full academic scholarship to study at Duke University in the US, where he majored in mechanical engineering and economics. However, he was unhappy.

"Despite my academic success, I felt a sense of emptiness," says Wong, 27. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and lived in Hong Kong from the age of two to five before moving to Singapore, where he still lives.

"My life revolved around my academic performance. If I studied hard for a test and didn't do as well as I'd hoped, I'd become depressed. I didn't enjoy learning or discovering new things. I was motivated just to get good grades. My self-esteem was low, and I was constantly worried I wouldn't be good enough. My identity was based on my performance," Wong says.

"I said to myself, 'Surely there's more to life than just striving for achievement after achievement'."

His reflection on his life and his quest for the meaning of true happiness and fulfilment set him off on a journey to becoming a writer, speaker and coach. For the past two years, he has been working as a certified coach with students aged 13 and above, helping them to achieve their goals without sacrificing happiness.

Last year, he published a book titled The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfilment and Success. He has also been invited to speak at institutions and universities in Singapore, Indonesia, the US, and a Ted talk at Duke, his alma mater.

"I want to help students to avoid making the same mistakes that I did, in their blind pursuit of success," he says.

From working with students and parents, he has seen some common problems faced by today's teenagers.

"We ask ourselves how we can climb the ladder faster and get to the top as quickly as possible, but it is much more important to ask before we even start climbing: 'Is the ladder leaning against the right wall?' We need to know the real purpose behind what we do."

Another question students should ask themselves, he says, is whose dream they are chasing.

"Are you running the race other people want you to run, or your own race? Our society has a very narrow definition of success, which is related to wealth, power and status. Few people will ever be able to achieve success according to those standards. It's important you define your own success in a personal way."

Wong also warns of the social media being a distraction.

"Many of the students I've worked with are addicted to video games, Facebook, Twitter or other devices. They lack discipline and motivation in learning ... The key to long-term success lies in your daily habits," he says.

And good company.

"Choose who you hang out with carefully. If you are always with hyper-competitive people, you'll become like them. And keep your distance from toxic people."

Wong is working on a "happy" series of books including The Happy Body and The Happy Mom.

"Happiness matters. To achieve happiness in the long term, you need to be driven by purpose, not performance. And it is vital that you discover happiness for yourself before you can add value to other people's lives.


You might also like:

- A couple have inspired Hong Kong's teenagers to stay positive during both good and bad times.

- Members of Laughfull have a mission: to promote happiness and reveal the funny side of life through fun activities like their Paper, Scissors, Rock campaign and High Five Festival.

- Three Hong Kong teenagers made an award-winning documentary, called The Ferry. The Love, on the importance of treasuring our city's history while we still can.

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