Yesterday morning, on my way to work, I saw an old, homeless beggar, probably in his 70s. It wasn’t even eight o’clock in the morning and already, he was standing outside my usual subway station exit in the rain and holding out a Styrofoam container, hoping someone would offer spare change. Immediately, I went and did the most charitable thing I have ever (physically) done in all 19 years of my life: I bought the man some breakfast from the Starbucks just around the corner.

Perhaps this is a slightly more common scenario in the Western or European societies. However, I live in Hong Kong; a city that is rather famous for its busy, chaotic nature. Locals barely have time to tend to themselves because of work, let alone others. Simply put, nobody pays attention to those in need. Which was perhaps why in the current case, upon receiving the meal, the beggar remained silent and speechless. I left without hearing or saying another word, but I knew I had touched him.

The same night, I was supposed to attend a party for a friend at a hotel. I couldn’t go because I had something else to do at the last minute (believe me, I was gutted), yet the incident this morning got me thinking about the event. The dinner was held inside a classy restaurant with a formal dress code, so you can pretty much guess the range of the menu prices. At a charge of around USD $25.00 to USD $40.00, imagine how many hungry, homeless mouths that money could be used to feed. Is anybody else thinking Gossip Girl? (In case you haven’t heard of/watched it, this is a show on the CW channel about a bunch of rich kids living on the Upper East Side of New York City. All they do is argue, make out with each other, and well, gossip.)

I won’t be the first to say it nor the first to admit it, but my generation is spoiled. Shamelessly spoiled. And it gets worse with every year. It makes me sad realizing not many people my age are aware they should not take everything for granted. The problem is that a lot of them get easily upset over the slightest, most trivial things. If you think about it, how often do you hear about our middle-class (and above) youth not complaining about how they don’t have the latest iPhone or computer? (I myself am guilty as charged.) How often do you hear them truly express their thankfulness for what they have?

Seldom, indeed. Is this why adolescent depression has been on the high rise these days?

Especially in today’s world of economic recession, it’s important we consider how much it costs to fulfill contentment. Increasing availability of advanced technology makes it harder for the younger generations to feel satisfied with their lives. I am just as materialistic as the next teenager when it comes to wanting this and that; in fact, I got a new MacBook Pro only a few days ago. But I am perfectly aware of how lucky I am, having shelter, a close family, a solid education, et cetera … (Basically, everything listed in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.) Not everyone has the same fortune. Even worse, a lot of those who do unfortunately remain unhappy because of the tiniest gaps in their desires.

Then again, it all comes down to your social and environmental influences. Peer pressure can affect you in all ways possible. For example, having grown up in suburban Richmond, B.C., I was very used to the modest Canadian lifestyle. I hung out with friends who were all sensible with money and barely spent much. Going over to each other’s place was our favorite activity and that required few expenses (perhaps for transportation only), if any at all. After moving to Hong Kong and attending a private school, however, I started thinking that perhaps some friendships are expensive to keep. Gone are the days of movie nights and sleepovers. Nowadays, whenever I meet up with someone, I have to prepare myself for coming home with an empty wallet by the time night rolls around.

I’ve really begun to see how money isn’t everything. I may have spent a whopping USD $30.00 at a (different) birthday dinner last week, but I was just as happy spending hardly anything this past Monday when I met up with an old friend from Richmond. One of the things we did was standing inside a HMV store and pointing out all the actors we liked (“I looove Robert Downey Jr.,” “ME TOO!”). Without buying anything at all, we managed to have quite a few laughs for a whole hour just doing that. Good times.

To be happy is to be grateful. I’m far from being rich like Blair Waldorf and the rest of the Gossip Girl gang, but I know perfectly well I have everything I need … plus a little extra! The old man mentioned at the start of this entry is most likely discontent with his impoverished life, yet I can tell from his thankful eyes that he was thrilled when I passed him the Starbucks. Happiness is up to you to define, and as MasterCard would say, true happiness: priceless.

(Readers, what is your definition of happiness? Do you agree that today’s youth should spend more time on being thankful? Why or why not?)