The happiest man in America likes to laugh and be intellectually stimulated, lives with a frisky, oversized puppy, cooks kosher meals for young scholars at his home in Manoa — and enjoys the love of a good woman he’s been married to for the last 35 years.
Alvin Kuo Wong, 69, was singled out as the happiest man in a short newspaper article tucked away in the middle of the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section.
His phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.
"This has been crazy," Wong said yesterday after being interviewed by radio stations, television reporters and newspapers from across the country.
The Times relied on a formula called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America.
Gallup said this hypothetical person would be a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.
The Times then called Oahu’s three Jewish synagogues to see whether such a person exists.
There are only a handful of Asian-American men who practice Judaism in Honolulu, said Wong and his wife, Trudy Schandler Wong, who belong to two of the synagogues.
When factoring in key data such as age, marital status, parenthood and income, Wong was the only man on Oahu who fit all the criteria, Trudy Wong said.
He’s a 5-foot-10 Chinese-American who converted to Judaism, the father of two adult children and the founder of two health care management businesses who is in the process of starting a nonprofit group devoted to sharing resources to cancer patients and their families.
As the Wong’s rambunctious golden-doodle puppy, Samuel Sprocket Wong, bounced off the furniture yesterday, Alvin said one of the keys to happiness was instilled in him early from his mother, Honolulu-born Sun Lin Wong.
"My mom always said, ‘Don’t do things just for money. Do what makes you want to get up in the morning. Do what makes you happy.’"
The Wongs like to throw parties in their spacious kitchen and serve kosher food that Alvin cooks on their backyard grill and oversize, adjacent wok.
At Thanksgiving, the Wongs typically host 40 people or more and serve kosher kalua turkey.
Yesterday the Wong’s backyard was still set up from the brunch they threw on Sunday for a group of young scholars studying at the East-West Center, where Trudy sits on the board of the Friends of the East-West Center.
They’ve been hosting East-West Center scholars for years and have been deluged with e-mails from their friends from as far away as Pakistan, Israel and Malaysia ever since the Times article spread across the Internet.
"Surround yourself with young people," Alvin said. "They give you energy and have a different view than old folks."
His other keys to happiness?
» "Don’t get stuck. Embrace change."
» "Have a sense of humor — especially about yourself. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’re going to have a hard life."
» "Surround yourself with good friends."
» "You’re never too old to learn."
» "Religion is very important. It grounds you. It makes you humble."
» "It’s important to be comfortable but money doesn’t make you happy. Look at all of the rich celebrities who are in trouble. They have all the money in the world, and they’re not happy."
» "Family is the core. It’s everything."
The Wongs certainly have had their share of hard times — especially when Trudy’s first three pregnancies ended in tragedy, and in 1981 when Alvin’s father, Trudy’s father and her grandmother all died in the same year.
"When life throws you guavas, you make guava juice," Wong said. "That’s when I rely on my religion, good friends and my wife. In tough times you can fall back on them like it’s comfort food."