A recent survey of happiness/life satisfaction among various groups of people in China found that Shanghai construction workers were quite satisfied with their lives. (The details are only in Chinese, as far as I know.) They were happier than middle-class Chinese, in spite of earning much less. This has nothing to do with low Chinese prices, since the construction workers paid the same prices as middle-class Chinese. The researcher who discovered this attributed it to two things: 1. They got paid every month. The construction workers came from agricultural areas where payment is less frequent: only after a harvest. The construction workers sent money home to their villages. The steadiness of their income was a source of respect. 2. Because they live far from home, they can break all the rules, including sexual rules. A middle-class Chinese man, living with his family, is more constrained.
The massive rural-to-urban migration happening all over the world, especially in China, is one of the most important events in human history. The Chinese part of this story has usually been told through the eyes of a young woman who leaves her village and finds factory work — for example, a series in the Wall Street Journal, the documentary China Blue, or the new book Factory Girls by Leslie Chang. These results suggest that the male side of the story is much different.
These findings also suggest a big problem with conventional academic economics, which revolves around measurements of money (e.g., prices, salaries, savings, GDP, the ultimatum game). If desire for respect and personal freedom motivate major economic changes, measurements of money will miss a lot.