Does Culture Affect Happiness?

Happiness and well-being are often subjective feelings that can differ widely from person to person. 

Many of us can agree happiness is often felt when we perceive good things to be happening in a specific moment, or when we positively evaluate our overall life and accomplishments.

I was aware happiness would potentially mean something different for each individual, but was also interested in discovering if there was a difference among various nations or cultures on how they defined their happiness.

Does Culture Affect Happiness?

How Does Culture Shape Our Experience Of Happiness?

Cross-cultural studies have revealed some interesting variations.  The way people demonstrate their happiness to themselves and others is often a reflection of their society’s values.

To most North Americans and many living in other Western nations, happiness is thought of as a human right and commonly associated with positive experiences, or personal achievements.

In Japan, somewhat conversely, many respondents alluded to social harmony, the transient nature of happiness, along with recognizing its potential socially disruptive consequences.

Hong Kong Chinese defined happiness through more low arousal positive states that we may be used to in the West, such as calmness and relaxation.

It can be said the Chinese may think less often about how happy and satisfying their lives are compared to North Americans, while the Japanese traditionally have held a hesitant attitude towards happiness.

The Pursuit Of Happiness

Other recent studies have shown that the conscious pursuit of happiness, and the potential disappointments associated with that, might be associated with negative consequences on well-being for North Americans.  It may be leaving them with feelings of loneliness and disappointment.

However, the pursuit of happiness did not predict well-being outcomes among German participants and was associated with increased well-being levels in Japan, Russia, and Taiwan. 

That difference may be found because happiness might be pursued in more socially engaging ways, compared to the more individualistic cultures found in North America.  In North America, the focus on the self tends to be stronger and self-esteem is an important predictor of life satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

In the end, it would seem there are as many routes to happiness as there are interpretations of it around the world.

Wherever one may reside, positive social engagement, self-acceptance, as well as focusing on recognizing one’s meaning and purpose can be essential factors in finding happiness.

Sources and Other Reading:

Happiest Country Definition

World Happiness Report

Can Money Buy Happiness?

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