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Discussion 1: What is Happiness?
How happiness and well-being are defined varies around the globe. For instance, in some cultures, happiness is closely linked to economic well-being and in other cultures, happiness is linked to being closer to home. As an additional example, in some societies, happiness is connected to individual advancement, whereas in other societies one’s personal happiness is linked to the well-being of the group. 
 For this Discussion, you will explore the influences of happiness and how they vary according to culture. 
 Explain the two influences on happiness you selected and explain why they vary according to culture. 
  Be sure to support your postings and responses with specific references to the Learning Resources and identify current relevant literature to support your work. 
Discussion 2: What Brings Happiness Varies by Culture
Components of happiness and well-being are dependent on each individual culture. For instance, in one culture, feeling connected to nature may bring happiness while in another culture experiencing happiness may be linked to receiving an award or praise from others.
For this Discussion, you will read several resources describing how happiness may vary by cultural context and even how words and terms for happiness may not be universal and thus may not appear in every culture. As you consider these Learning Resources, think about the influence or term for happiness and whether it appears in every culture.
Post an explain the influence or term for happiness you selected and explain why you think it does not appear in every culture.
Note: Be sure to support your postings and responses with specific references to the Learning Resources and identify current relevant literature to support your work.

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
A conceptual paradigm for understanding culture’s impact on mental
health: The cultural influences on mental health (CIMH) model

Wei-Chin Hwang a,⁎, Hector F. Myers b, Jennifer Abe-Kim c, Julia Y. Ting d

a Department of Psychology, Claremont McKenna College, 850 Columbia Avenue, Claremont, CA, 91711 United States
b University of California, Los Angeles, United States

c Loyola Marymount University, United States
d University of Utah, United States

Received 14 February 2007; accepted 3 May 2007

Understanding culture’s impact on mental health and its treatment is extremely important, especially in light of recent reports
highlighting the realities of health disparities and unequal treatment. This article provides a conceptual paradigm for under-
standing how culture influences six mental health domains, including (a) the prevalence of mental illness, (b) etiology of disease,
(c) phenomenology of distress, (d) diagnostic and assessment issues, (e) coping styles and help-seeking pathways, and (f) treatment
and intervention issues. Systematic interrelationships between each of these domains are highlighted and relevant literature is
reviewed. Although no one model can adequately capture the complex facets of culture’s influence on mental health, the Cultural
Influences on Mental Health (CIMH) model serves as an important framework for understanding the complexities of these
interrelationships. Implications for clinical research and practice are discussed.
© 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


1. The CIMH model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
1.1. Cultural issues in the development of illness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
1.2. Culture and the expression of distress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
1.3. Expression of distress, diagnostic accuracy, and the prevalence of illness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
1.4. Culture, expression of distress, and help-seeking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
1.5. Help-seeking, diagnoses, and their relation to treatment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
1.6. Meeting the needs of ethnic minority and immigrant communities: policy implications . . . . . . . . . . . . 222

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223

Recently in the United States, the Surgeon General and the Institute of Medicine reported that racial and ethnic
health disparities exist, and that in general, ethnic minorities continue to be missing from the research from which
evidence-based treatments (EBTs) are drawn (Smedley, Smith, & Nelson, 2003; USDHHS, 2001). In addition, there is
⁎ Corresponding author.
E-mail address: [email protected] (W.-C. Hwang).

0272-7358/$ – see front matter © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

mailto:[email protected]


212 W.-C. Hwang et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
a growing body of European and other international literature supporting these findings and suggesting that immigrants
and ethnic minorities evidence a disproportionate burden of illness and unequal access to health care services
(Department of Health, 2003; Fernando, 2005). This accumulating body of evidence underscores the idea that extant
health care systems may not be adequately prepared to meet the needs of minority and immigrant populations. The
importance of incorporating issues of culture, race, and ethnicity into research, teaching, and clinical practice are sorely
needed. This task has proven to be quite complicated given the limited resources that have been invested towards
improving our understanding of cultural influences on mental health. Without guiding frameworks from which to work
from, the larger audience of mental health professionals will continue to acknowledge that culture is important, but
struggle in articulating how culture makes a difference and be unprepared in addressing growing world-wide health

The goal of this article is to provide a conceptual framework, the Cultural Influences on Mental Health (CIMH)
model, to help bridge this gap and increase cultural understanding and awareness (see Fig. 1). In this article, we define
culture broadly as not only including the set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors shared by a group of people
(Barnouw, 1985), but also as inclusive of culture-related experiences such as those related to acculturation and being
an ethnic minority. The CIMH model argues that culture permeates and affects several core domains of the illness
process. Culture contributes to differences in (a) the prevalence of mental illness, (b) etiology and course of disease, (c)
phenomenology or expression of distress, (d) diagnostic and assessment issues, (e) coping styles and help-seeking
pathways, and (f) treatment and intervention issues. Because of the multitude of ways that culture can influence mental
health issues, these domains are not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather provide a starting point for understanding the
more visible ways that culture influences the development and treatment of psychopathology.

Cultural influences each of the above domains, which are also clearly and logically related. For example, cultural
differences in the expression of distress (e.g., emotional distress or physical symptoms) could influence diagnostic
accuracy in the assessment of depression, which in turn, impacts our ability to reliably estimate the prevalence of
depression. What one believes to be the causes of one’s problems (e.g., bodily problems causing depression or
depression causing physical health problems) also plays a role in where one seeks help (e.g., primary care or mental
health facility), and one’s confidence in the treatment provided (e.g., belief that talk therapy is effective versus feeling
like talking about problems makes one feel worse). Research conducted to examine how culture impacts each of these
domains as well as how they are systematically interrelated continues to be limited. Understanding these inter-
relationships is integral to understanding how culture influences the development, progression, and treatment of mental

The CIMH was initially developed to provide students and professionals with a broad and more sophisticated
understanding of culture’s dynamic influence on mental health. Specifically, in our teaching of culture and mental
health issues, professionals and students often developed a simplistic understanding that culture matters, but often had
difficulty understanding the dynamic and interactive nature of culture on interrelated mental health domains. The
Fig. 1. The Cultural Influences on Mental Health (CIMH) Model.

213W.-C. Hwang et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
CIMHmodel serves as an illustrative roadmap to help students and professionals visualize the complexities involved in
understanding culture’s influence on mental health. We acknowledge that no single conceptual model can adequately
capture the complexities involved in understanding cultural influences on mental health, but hope that the CIMHmodel
will provide a solid foundation for those wanting and needing to improve their cultural awareness.

1. The CIMH model

1.1. Cultural issues in the development of illness

At a basic level, we understand that the cultural background and characteristics of the individual plays an important
role in the etiology of disease and the resulting psychological distress and mental illness as illustrated by Pathways A
and B in Fig. 1. For instance, we know that the day to day experiences of people from different backgrounds may be
very different. We also know that ethnic minorities are likely to be exposed to a disproportionate burden of unique
stressful experiences. A basic example would be that of the refugee experience. Many refugees immigrate to countries
around the world having experienced a variety of traumatic experiences, including war, genocide, violence, famine,
and political persecution (Gong-Guy, Cravens, & Patterson, 1991; Williams & Berry, 1991). Whether one escapes to
another country or not, those exposed to violent experience evidence increased risk for depression and post traumatic
stress disorder, as has been found among Southeast Asian, African, Bosnian, and Kurdistanian refugees (Chung &
Kagawa-Singer, 1993; Hirschowitz & Orkin, 1997; Kinzie et al., 1990; Kroll et al., 1989; Sundquist, Johansson,
DeMarinis, Johansson, and Sundquist, 2005; Wahlsten, Ahmad, Von Knorring, 2001). Traumatic experiences are
culture-universal in that anyone exposed to such stressors would likely be negatively affected. However, refugees are
much more likely than the general population to experience traumas (Gong-guy et al., 1991; Williams & Berry, 1991),
and as a result, their vulnerability to developing psychological problems increase with accumulated stress burden.
Refugee experiences can be very different from that of other ethnic minorities. For example, Native Americans who
have suffered from the cumulative impact of colonization and generations of oppression also suffer from higher rates of
lifetime trauma and violent victimization than other groups living in the U.S. (National Center for Injury Prevention
and Control, 2002; Walters & Simoni, 1999).

Regardless of refugee status, many immigrants also experience acculturative stresses while trying to adapt to a new
cultural environment that those in the majority population are unlikely to face (Hovey, 2000; Williams & Berry, 1991).
Acculturative stress, defined as the stress related to transitioning and adapting to a new environment (e.g., linguistic
difficulties, pressures to assimilate, separation from family, experiences with discrimination, and acculturation-related
intergenerational family conflicts) refers to adaptational stressors that can increase risk for mental health problems
(Berry, 1998; Berry & Sam, 1997). These stressors have been found to have a detrimental effect on immigrant health
and mental health, especially among recent immigrants (Berry, 1998; Goater et al., 1999; Hovey, 2000; Jarvis, 1998;
King et al., 2005; Myers, & Rodriguez, 2003; Oh, Koeske, & Sales, 2002; Organista, Organista, & Kurasaki, 2003;
Schrier,Van de Wtering, Mulder, and Selten, 2001; Vega & Rumbaut, 1991; Veling et al., 2006). The degree to which
acculturative stresses are likely to have a negative impact partially depends on a number of pre-post migration factors,
such as educational status, linguistic ability, refugee status, access to thriving ethnic neighborhoods in the host country,
and support networks available (Williams & Berry, 1991).

Cultural assimilation, or the process of gradually taking on the characteristics of a new environment, can also
increase risk for health problems as immigrants acculturate, possibly due to a regression to the normative prevalence
rates of illness in the general population (Berry, 1998). For example, there is a growing body of research indicating that
U.S. born Latinos evidence higher rates of a variety of mental and physical health problems than foreign-born Latinos
(Escobar, Nervi, and Gara, 2000; Ortega, Rosenheck, Alegria, and Desai, 2000). Chinese Americans also evidence this
cultural assimilation effect in relation to major depression (Hwang, Chun, Takeuchi, Myers, & Siddarth, 2005). A
similar problem is also developing in European countries. For example, several studies have found that the rate
of schizophrenia was approximately 2–3 times higher for African immigrants, Afro-Caribbeans, Asian, Surinam,
Netherland Antilles, Moroccan, and other immigrants than Whites in Great Britain and the Netherlands (Goater et al.,
1999; Jarvis, 1998; King et al., 2005; Schrier et al., 2001; Veling et al., 2006). There is little empirical evidence that
explains why this is happening, however, some believe that it may be due to a combination of accumulated stress
burden, increased exposure to culturally unfamiliar environmental and psychosocial experiences, racism and dis-
crimination, and the loss and attenuation of culturally protective factors.

214 W.-C. Hwang et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
Immigrant issues aside, ethnic minorities are likely to be exposed to a number of other stressors that are unique to
their minority status. For example, many minorities report negative experiences with racism and discrimination (Clark,
Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Kessler, Mickelson, & Williams, 1999; Williams, 1996). Racial discrimination
(whether overt, covert, or perceived) is likely to have a negative impact on health and mental health, and often leaves
people with feelings of anger, disempowerment, fear, loss of control, and helplessness (Clark et al., 1999; Krieger,
Sidney, & Coakley, 1999). Persistent ethnic and racial discrimination continues to be highly prevalent around the world
with many citizens holding disparaging and negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities being dangerous, lazy, less
intelligent, and so forth (Davis & Smith, 1990). Recent reports also indicate that ethnic and racial discrimination not
only results in economic disadvantages for many ethnic minorities, but also persist in health care systems and
exacerbate health disparities (Smedley et al., 2003).

In addition to being the target of racism, ethnic minorities are less likely to benefit from a number of privileges
available to Whites (McIntosh, 1989; Rothenberg, 2005). In discussing White privilege, McIntosh (1989) notes, “I was
taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance in my group”
(pp. 31). White privilege acts to confer a number of advantages to White people that ethnic minorities do not have. In
the U.S., for example, Chin, Cho, Kang, and Wu (1999) note that:

For many people of color, racism has decreased the amount and value of economic, social, and cultural capital
inherited from our ancestors. Not only did we receive less material wealth, we also received less “insider
knowledge” and fewer social contacts so instrumental to one’s educational and professional advancement. The fact
that runners today might compete on more equal “footing” does nothing to change this fact…even if you are
individually innocent of any racial discrimination, do you still enjoy its illicit fruits? After all, discrimination (by
others) has shrunk your pool of competitors for admissions, public contracting, and jobs. (pp. 3, 5)
Because of this, White privilege not only reduces the amount of stressful experiences that White Americans face, but
also serves as a protective factor and increases their resources for anticipating and coping with adversity relative to
persons of color.

Some ethnic minorities are exposed to a different set of stressful experiences that White Americans are less likely to
face. In addition, these experiences may affect different groups differently, and as a result, bias research findings. For
example, African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and some Asian American groups evidence a
higher burden of poverty in the U.S. (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003). Given the high rates of poverty and the cumulative and
current exposure to racism and discrimination experienced by many of these groups, it is surprising that ethnic
minorities do not evidence even higher disproportionate rates of mental dysfunction than White Americans (Chernoff,
2002). Chernoff (2002) noted that while positive coping resources (e.g., kinship, spirituality, ethnic pride, collective
unity) may help to preserve the mental health of minority communities, the disproportionate risk burden they carry still
takes its toll as evidenced by the disproportionate burden of medical morbidity in many of these groups.

Betancourt and Lopez (1993) caution that understanding the relationship between race and socioeconomic status
(SES) is a complex process and vulnerable to methodological and statistical bias. For example, they note that the
prevalence of depressive symptoms was found to be higher among Latinos than White Americans in a study conducted
by Frerichs, Aneshensel, and Clark (1981), which provided evidence of an ethnic difference. However, this effect may
be overestimated because when SES is controlled, the ethnic effect disappeared and SES became the significant
predictor of depression. Because SES and ethnicity can be highly overlapped in some minority groups, both variables
need to be included in statistical analyses. However, this overlap also effectively limits our ability to disaggregate
shared variability. In order to properly understand these relations, they caution that a sufficient representation of ethnic
groups in multiple SES stratum is required (Betancourt & Lopez, 1993).

Social factors such as familial relationships serve as an important risk and protective factor for all people, but may
also affect ethnic minorities differently. For example, research examining expressed emotions found that while family
interactions involving criticism was more predictive of relapse for White Americans returning home after hos-
pitalization for schizophrenia, emotional distance and lack of warmth played a stronger role than emotionally negative
interactions in predicting relapse for Mexican American families (Lopez et al., 2004). Chao (1994) also challenged
what were believed to be culture-universal relationships between parenting styles and child outcomes by noting that
Chinese American parents tended to be more “authoritarian” but that Chinese American children still performed well in
school. She introduced the notion of a Chinese parenting style called “Xiao xun” or “child training,” and believes that
this culture-specific parenting style, based on Chinese notions of filial piety, may better explain child-parent relations

215W.-C. Hwang et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
than predominant Western conceptualizations. More research needs to be done to examine operational differences in
how family and social relations preserve or exacerbate mental health outcomes. In addition, more research needs to be
conducted to examine how acculturation impacts family relations. Recently, Hwang (2006a) proposed a theory of
Acculturative Family Distancing (AFD), noting how growing acculturative gaps place immigrant families at risk
for developing AFD along two dimensions, a breakdown of communication and an increase of incongruent cultural
values, both of which negatively impact family relations and increase risk for psychological distress and functional

1.2. Culture and the expression of distress

The cultural background of the individual not only influences the etiology and development of disease, but also
plays a role in the definition and sociocultural meanings of illness. The sociocultural meanings in turn are shaped by
cultural norms and beliefs, and ultimately serve as a filter to shape the manner in which distress is expressed as
illustrated by Pathways C and D. People from all around the world experience mental illness, and for the most part,
symptom profiles for the major disorders are similar (USDHHS, 2001). However, the manifestation of such difficulties
(e.g., how they are communicated, experienced, whether they are expressed, and the social meanings of different
symptom clusters) can vary by age, gender, and cultural background (Kleinman, 1978). For example, although there
may be core symptoms of depression that are similar across cultures, there may also be differences in emphases placed
on certain types of symptoms (e.g., differences in the loading of affective, cognitive, and somatic complaints) and/or
symptoms associated with depression (e.g., headaches and stomachaches) that are not currently included in the U.S.
Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) or the International Classification of Disease (ICD) (APA,1994; WHO, 1992).
The sociocultural environment may act as a contextual backdrop and influence cultural conceptions of illness (e.g.,
what an illness is), symptom recognition and tolerance, the manner in which it is expressed, social meanings associated
with it, and the manner in which it is communicated (e.g., directly, indirectly, or not at all) (Marsella, 1980).

When considering cultural differences in the expression of distress, etic (culture-universal phenomena) and emic
(culture-specific phenomena) distinctions are also important to make (Fischer, Jome, & Atkinson, 1998; Sue, 1983).
Using depression as an illustrative example, the etic perspective assumes that all people express depression in similar
ways and that our diagnostic criteria can be applied to people from all backgrounds without significant cultural bias. On
the other hand, an emic perspective would argue that there are likely to be both universal forms of depressive symptoms
(i.e. criterial symptoms), as well as cultural variability in symptom expression (Fischer et al., 1998; Sue, 1983).

Somatization, or the degree to which people express their distress through physical symptoms can vary across
cultural groups, affect different parts of the body, and carry different social meanings. For example, in Asian cultures,
research suggests that somatic expression of distress is very common place; whereas, in Western cultures, there is a
greater emphasis on talking about problems and expressing oneself verbally and emotionally (Chun, Enomoto, &
Sue, 1996). When comparing Chinese and American psychiatric patients with depressive syndromes, Kleinman (1977)
found that 88% of Chinese patients compared to 20% of U.S. patients did not present affective complaints and reported
only somatic complaints. In Taiwan, nearly 70% of psychiatric outpatients presented with predominantly somatic
complaints at their first visit (Tseng, 1975). Chun et al., (1996) note that somatization may be more prevalent among
Asians because open displays of emotional distress is discouraged, possibly because of differences in value orientation
and strong stigma associated with mental illness. Displays of psychological symptoms of depression may be perceived
as characteristic of personal or emotional weakness. As a result, Asians may deny, suppress, or repress the experience
and expression of emotions. This is not to say that Asians and Asian Americans do not experience psychologically
related depressive emotions per se. Instead, there may be cultural differences in selective attention (e.g., amount of focus
on the mind vs. body), ordering of such foci (e.g., focusing on somatic symptoms first because this is more culturally
acceptable and less stigmatized than acknowledging cognitive and emotional symptoms), and/or willingness to express
distress based on what’s culturally appropriate or accepted (e.g., greater stigma associated with mental illness and/or
differences in divulging problems to people outside of the family). In some Latino groups for example, somatic
disturbances take the form of chest pains, heart palpitations, and gas (Escobar, Burnam, Karno, Forsythe, & Golding,
1987); whereas, in some African and South Asians groups it is sometimes expressed through burning of the hands
and feet and the experience of worms in the head or the crawling of ants under the skin (APA, 1994; USDHHS, 2001).

There may even be linguistic differences in the language available to describe, interpret, and communicate one’s
problems. For example, in Native American culture, words for many Western conceptualizations of illness such as

216 W.-C. Hwang et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 211–227
depression and anxiety do not exist (Manson, Shore, & Bloom, 1985). In examining ethnic differences in the clinical
presentation of depression, Myers et al. (2002) found that even after controlling for SES and severity of distress,
African American and Latina women who were depressed reported more somatic complaints than White American
women. Greater somatic manifestations among many ethnic groups may be associated with philosophical or cultural
underpinnings that emphasize an integrated or holistic mind-body-spirit experience (Hwang, Wood, Lin, Cheung, &
Wood, 2006). This can be seen in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where the mind and body are treated as one,
inseparable, and a balance of yin (negative) and yang (positive) energies.

How psychological or emotional distress is initially expressed can also be culturally incongruent and open the door
for social or self-criticism (Chun et al., 1996). In some cultures, extreme emotional reactions may elicit negative social
responses (e.g., other perceiving this person as crazy, weak, or lazy); whereas, somatic expression of distress may elicit
empathy and help rally support from social networks (e.g., the belief that this person has a real medical problem and
needs help). Illnesses are dynamic in that they represent complex social constructs that are influenced by social norms
and complex social feedback interactions between the person and their social environment (Chun et al., 1996). In some
cultures, attribution of interpersonal distress to physical causes may also initially protect patients from feeling negative
emotions and worry, and reduce feelings of shame, weakness, and loss of control.

Although Chinese patients may initially report more somatic symptoms and suppress or ignore emotional
symptoms, this does not mean that they do not experience emotional and cognitive symptoms (Cheung, 1982; Cheung
& Lau, 1982). In fact, clinical experience tells us that after developing a good therapeutic relationship, Chinese patients
begin to feel more comfortable expressing more cognitive and affective symptoms. In addition, studies have found that
although some patients were more likely to focus on physical complaints when they initially came into treatment, they
were fully aware of and capable of expressing feelings and talking about the social problems that had brought them into
treatment after a strong patient-therapist relationship developed (Cheung, 1982; Cheung & Lau, 1982).

Culture-bound syndromes, defined as culture-specific idioms of distress that form recognized symptom patterns and
have distinct clinical characteristics, symptom constellations, and social meanings, have been documented in many
cultures (APA, 1994; Levine & Gaw, 1995). Two of the most researched include ataque de nervios and neurasthenia.
Ataque de nervios, often characterized as a form of panic attack among Latinos, is associated with feelings of being out
of control due to stressful events relating to family difficulties (APA, 1994). Unlike traditional panic attack, it is
not associated with the hallmark symptoms of acute fear or apprehension. Other symptoms include trembling,
uncontrollable shouting or crying, somatic feelings of heat rising through the chest to the head, dissociative
experiences, seizure-like fainting episodes, and aggressive behavior (APA, 1994). Recent evidence suggests that
although a portion of those diagnosed with ataque de nervious also meet criteria for panic disorder, the majority of
subjects with ataque de nervios do not, suggesting that ataque de nervios is a more inclusive construct (Lewis-
Fernandez et al., 2002). Key features that distinguish ataque de nervious from panic include a more rapid onset of
attack, being preceded by an upsetting event in one’s life, and greater fears of losing control, going crazy,
depersonalization, sweating, and dizziness (Lewis-Fernandez et al., 2002; Liebowitz et al., 1994).

Neurasthenia (NT) or shenjing shuairuo in Mandarin Chinese, commonly referred to as a Chinese form of
depression, is characterized by two highly overlapping symptom domains including increased fatigue after mental
effort (e.g., poor concentration, increased distractibility, inefficient thinking) or physical weakness or exhaustion that is
accompanied by physical pains and inability to relax (e.g., headaches, dizziness, sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal
problems, anhedonia, and bodily pain) (WHO, 1992). This diagnosis continues to be used in China and is included in
the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (Neuropsychiatry Branch of the Chinese Medical
Association, 1989). There continues to be controversy about whether neurasthenia is merely major depression with a
cultural label or whether it is a distinct diagnostic entity. For example, Kleinman (1982) found that 87% of psychiatric
patients diagnosed with NT in a Chinese clinic could be rediagnosed with major depression. In contrast, a recent
epidemiological study of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles found that 78% of those diagnosed with neurasthenia did
not meet criteria for major depression or an anxiety disorder, yielding a neurasthenia prevalence rate that was as high as
that of major depression (Zheng et al., 1997).

Many other culture-bound syndromes have also been documented (Levine & Gaw, 1995). Unfortunately, there is
less empirical research to help us understand these syndromes which affect people from all around the world. For
example, many cultures believe in magical powers, spiritual possessions, and witchcraft or juju. In Northern Africa and
parts of the Middle East, cases of “Zar” or …

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Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography:
Enriching our emotional landscape through 216
‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being

Tim Lomas

To cite this article: Tim Lomas (2016) Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching
our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, The Journal of
Positive Psychology, 11:5, 546-558, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993

Published online: 18 Jan 2016.

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Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through
216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being

Tim Lomas

School of Psychology, University of East London, London, UK

(Received 24 August 2015; accepted 25 November 2015)

Although much attention has been paid to culture-specific psychopathologies, there have been no comparable attempts to
chart positive mental states that may be particular to certain cultures. This paper outlines the beginnings of a positive
cross-cultural lexicography of ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, culled from across the world’s languages.
A quasi-systematic search uncovered 216 such terms. Using grounded theory, these words were organised into three cat-
egories: feelings (comprising positive and complex feelings); relationships (comprising intimacy and pro-sociality) and
character (comprising personal resources and spirituality). The paper has two main aims. First, it aims to provide a win-
dow onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second,
a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed
speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being. The paper concludes by setting out
a research agenda to pursue these aims further.

Keywords: cross-cultural linguistics; lexicography; well-being; happiness


Critical theorists have often accused positive psychology
(PP) of developing a culturally specific understanding of
well-being (Becker & Marecek, 2008). That is, since
much of the empirical work in PP has taken place in
Western countries, it is suggested that the concepts
developed within the field tend to reflect a bias towards
‘Western’ ways of thinking. For instance, Izquierdo
(2005) argues that PP has been strongly influenced by a
North American tradition of ‘expressive individualism’
(defined by Pope (1991, p. 384) as the ‘unmitigated refer-
ence to the value of the individual self’). However, PP
has not been unmindful of these critiques, and indeed has
developed a greater level of cross-cultural sensitivity than
its critics give it credit for. This emergent sensitivity is
reflected in studies exploring variation in the way differ-
ent cultures relate to well-being, including in how it is
defined (Joshanloo, 2014), experienced (Uchida &
Ogihara, 2012) and reported (Oishi, 2010).

In the interests of adding to this burgeoning cross-
cultural sensitivity, this paper follows one particular line
of enquiry that has not yet been explored in depth: the sig-
nificance of so-called ‘untranslatable’ words. Such words
exert great fascination, not only in specialised fields like
linguistics or anthropology (Wierzbicka, 1999), but also in
popular culture. Part of the fascination seems to derive
from the notion that such words offer ‘windows’ into other
cultures, and thus potentially into new ways of being in

the world. As Wierzbicka (1997, p. 5) puts it, ‘words with
special, culture-specific meanings reflect and pass on not
only ways of living characteristic of a given society, but
also ways of thinking’. Thus, ‘untranslatable’ words are
not only of interest to translators; after all, many such pro-
fessionals argue that it can be difficult to find exact transla-
tions for most words, and that nearly all terms lose some
specificity or nuance when rendered in another tongue
(Hatim & Munday, 2004). Rather, ‘untranslatability’
reflects the notion that such words identify phenomena
that have only been recognised by specific cultures. Per-
haps the most famous example is Schadenfreude, a Ger-
man term describing pleasure at the misfortunes of others.
Such words are not literally untranslatable, of course, since
their meaning can be conveyed in a sentence. Rather, they
are deemed ‘untranslatable’ to the extent that other lan-
guages lack a single word/phrase for the phenomenon.

The significance of such words is much debated. A
dominant theoretical notion here is ‘linguistic relativity’
(Hussein, 2012). First formulated by the German philoso-
phers Herder (1744–1803) and Humboldt (1767–1835), it
came to prominence with the linguist Sapir (1929) and his
student Whorf (1940). Their so-called ‘Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis’ holds that language plays a constitutive role
in the way that people experience, understand and even
perceive the world. As Whorf (1956, pp. 213–214) put it,
‘We dissect nature along lines laid out by our native
languages … The world is presented as a kaleidoscopic

Email: [email protected]
Note: To view and/or contribute to the evolving lexicography, please visit www.drtimlomas.com/lexicography

© 2016 Taylor & Francis

The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2016
Vol. 11, No. 5, 546–558, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993

mailto:[email protected]






flux of impressions which has to be organized … largely
by the linguistic systems in our minds’. This hypothesis
comes in various strengths. Its stronger form is linguistic
determinism, where language inextricably constitutes and
constrains thought. For instance, Whorf argued that the
Hopi people had a different experience of time due to par-
ticularities in their grammar, such that they lacked a linear
sense of past, present and future. This strong determinism
has been criticised, e.g. by Pinker (1995), who argued that
the Hopi experience of time was not particularly different
to that of Western cultures. However, the milder form of
the hypothesis, linguistic relativism, simply holds that lan-
guage shapes thought and experience. This milder hypoth-
esis is generally accepted by most anthropologists and
other such scholars (Perlovsky, 2009).

A similar debate pertains specifically to ‘untranslat-
able’ words. A strong deterministic view argues that
unless a person is enmeshed within the culture that pro-
duced a given word, he or she would be unable to
understand or experience the phenomenon that the word
refers to. Such a view is associated with the philosopher
Charles Taylor (1985), who argued that there is no way
out of the ‘hermeneutic circle’, in which concepts can
only be understood with reference to other concepts
within that language. As Taylor put it,

We can often experience what it is like to be on the out-
side [of the circle] when we encounter the feeling,
action, and experiential meaning language of another
civilization. Here there is no translation, no way of
explaining in other, more accessible concepts. (pp. 23–

However, articulating a milder relativistic view,
Wierzbicka (1999) suggests we can indeed escape the
hermeneutic circle and get a feel for what ‘untranslat-
able’ words refer to. Wierzbicka does acknowledge that
people not emic to a particular culture may not appreci-
ate the full nuanced richness of a term compared to peo-
ple who are ‘inside’ the culture. As she puts it, ‘verbal
explanations of such concepts cannot replace experiential
familiarity with them and with their functioning in the
local “stream of life,”’ (p. 8), to use Wittgenstein’s
(1990) telling phrase. However, Wierzbicka argues that
‘it is not true that no verbal explanations illuminating to
outsiders are possible at all’, since most culture-specific
concepts are complex constructs that can be de-com-
posed into simpler elements that are universally under-
stood (p. 8).

If Wierzbicka’s perspective is correct, then encoun-
tering ‘untranslatable’ words has the potential to enrich
one’s conceptual vocabulary. (Of course, if incorrect,
such an exercise would still have the valuable outcome
of increasing one’s understanding of other cultures.) If
applied to well-being specifically, as in this paper, such
an exercise may enrich our emotional landscape, as

suggested by Perlovsky’s (2009) ‘emotional Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis’. The existence of ‘untranslatable’ words per-
taining to well-being implies that there are positive
emotional states which have hitherto only been explic-
itly recognised by particular cultures. However, this
does not mean that people in other cultures may not
have had a comparable experience. Yet, lacking a speci-
fic term for it, such people have arguably not had the
opportunity to specifically identify that particular state,
which instead thus becomes just another un-conceptu-
alised ripple in the on-going flux of subjective experi-
ence. As Ferguson (2003, p. 10) says, it is possible that
‘entire feelings, entire concepts went unexpressed, sim-
ply because no word had ever been coined to capture
them’. However, the value of exploring ‘untranslatable’
words is that, if people are introduced to a foreign
term, this may then be used to give voice to these hith-
erto unlabelled states. We see this when foreign words
are imported into other languages, like Schadenfreude.
In such cases, although one’s language lacks an
equivalent term, the phenomenon it refers to has been
experienced, or does at least make sense. Consequently,
given the lack of a native term, the foreign word is
simply imported and used. Indeed, as De Boinod (2007,
p. 5) puts it, ‘The English language has a long-
established and voracious tendency to naturalise the best
foreign words’.

So, with the aim of enriching the emotional vocabu-
lary of the English language, this paper offers a quasi-sys-
tematic review of ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to
well-being. It is quasi-systematic since there was insuffi-
cient source material in academic journals, meaning that a
true systematic review, utilising conventional academic
databases, was not possible. It is notable that, while much
attention has been paid to culture-specific psychopatholo-
gies by fields like psychiatry and medical anthropology
(Thakker & Ward, 1998), there have been no comparable
attempts to chart positive mental states, hence the value of
the current paper.


The quasi-systematic review undertaken in this paper
proceeded in a number of stages. The first stage involved
searching for relevant ‘untranslatable’ words. This stage
featured three main search strategies. First, I examined
20 websites and blogs devoted to ‘untranslatable words’.
These were located by entering the phrase ‘untranslatable
words’ into google, and picking the first 20 such web-
sites and/or blogs. Examining these websites/blogs, I
selected any word pertaining roughly to well-being,
using well-being in an expansive sense to incorporate
positive emotions, valued qualities, beneficial relation-
ships, physical health and psychospiritual development.
This search strategy generated 131 words. Second, I

The Journal of Positive Psychology 547

searched google one language at a time. This involved
entering ‘_____ concept of’ and ‘well-being’ into the
search engine, with a different language in the under-
lined space each time. I would proceed through the first
ten pages for each search, looking for references to emo-
tions or qualities relating to well-being that were pre-
sented as being unique to a particular culture. This
strategy generated a further 77 words. Third, I canvassed
staff and students at my institution, as well as friends
and acquaintances, which yielded another 8 words. As a
result, 216 relevant terms were located. These words and
their descriptions were checked for accuracy by consult-
ing online dictionaries, as well as peer-reviewed aca-
demic sources (if such were available for a given word).
Thus, I based my analysis on the definitions provided by
dictionaries and academic sources (rather than the origi-
nal websites/blogs where I first located some terms).
Since this study was undertaken by me alone, it must be
acknowledged that there may be some subjective bias in
my analysis. However, this paper is just the first step
towards the development of a positive cross-cultural lexi-
cography. As such, it is hoped that any inaccuracies or
bias may be corrected in future by the involvement of
other scholars in this project.

Having compiled a list of words, I analysed these
using a qualitative methodology known as grounded the-
ory (GT) (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). In GT, the aim is to
allow theory to ‘emerge’ inductively from the data. GT
involves three main stages: open coding, axial coding
and selective coding. First, open coding involves exam-
ining the data – which in this study was the list of 216
words – for emergent themes. Thus, I looked for words
which appeared to share a common theme, and then I
grouped these words together under that theme. For
instance, I found five words which pertained to friend-
ship (philotimo [φιλότιμο], cariño, confianza, nakama
[仲間] and ah-un [阿吽]). I therefore grouped these
words together under the label ‘friendship’. The next
stage was axial coding, in which the themes themselves
are clustered together into meta-themes. For example, I
took the themes of ‘friendship’, ‘affection’, ‘desire’ and
‘love’, and grouped these into a meta-theme of ‘inti-
macy’. Still within the stage of axial coding, meta-
themes are in turn grouped into overarching categories.
For instance, ‘intimacy’ and ‘pro-sociality’ together cre-
ated a category of ‘relationships’. The resulting three
main categories were: feelings, relationships and charac-
ter. The final GT stage is selective coding, in which a
single ‘core’ category is identified, which in this case
was well-being. Attempts are then made to elucidate
how the main categories relate to this core category, thus
telling a ‘narrative’ which makes sense of the data. The
three main categories are analysed in turn in the sections


The first category is feelings, an umbrella term encom-
passing affect, emotions, moods and sensations. Words
here can be differentiated into two categories: positively
qualified feelings, and more complex ambivalent feel-
ings. These are considered in turn.

Positive feelings

This section includes a spectrum of words pertaining to
positive affect. Perhaps the dominant state in this regard
is happiness, for which most languages have a translative
equivalent. Interestingly, many of these derive etymologi-
cally from terms pertaining to luck (McMahon, 2004),
including heureux (French), onni (Finnish), Gluck
(German) and felicità (Italian). Indeed, the English term
derives from the old Norse happ, which alludes to fate,
as in ‘happenstance’. McMahon suggests this close inter-
twining between happiness and luck derives from earlier
generations experiencing a relative lack of control over
their lives, with a resulting sense that happy people are
those ‘blessed’ with good fortune.

However, happiness is a complex, polyvalent term,
encompassing a multitude of positive feelings. Most
languages not only possess terms that are translated as
happiness, but moreover have numerous such terms, each
of which captures different nuances. Urdu for example
has at least 16 words that might be translated as happi-
ness, including terms that articulate: enjoyment or merri-
ment, such as kayf ( فیک ) and xurramii ( یمرخ ); pleasure,
like suwaad ( داوُس ) and shaadmaanii ( یناْمداش ); gladness
and good cheer, like dilshaadgii ( یگداشلد ); prosperity and
fecility, like sazaadat ( تداعس ) and xushii ( یشوُخ ); more
‘elevated’ forms like joy and delight, such as masarrat
( تٰرََسم ) and farhat ( َتحَْرف ); and even stronger forms such as
bliss, e.g. anand ( دَْننآ ) and sarshaarii ( یراشرس ). Thus,
happiness functions as an overarching label, enfolding a
spectrum of positive feelings. As such, this section aims
to get ‘under the hood’ of happiness, looking for words
that tease apart its components and nuances.

To begin with, there are words capturing specific
flavours of pleasure and enjoyment. Some pertain to sati-
ating appetites: Spanish uses gula for the desire to eat
simply for the taste, while shemomedjamo (Georgian)
describes eating past the point of satiety due to sheer
gustatory enjoyment. Many cultures acknowledge the
importance of sharing such pleasures with friends; e.g.
Spanish has sobremesa for when the food has finished
but the conversation is still flowing. Relationships are
one of our three main categories, and are considered at
length below. Nevertheless, here we can situate words
given to socialising around food and drink – each with
their own cultural nuances – including fika (Swedish),
borrel (Dutch), sahar ( رهس ; Arabic) and parea (Παρέα;

548 T. Lomas

Greek). Further forms of merrymaking include: mbuki-
mvuki (Bantu), to ‘shuck off one’s clothes in order to
dance’ (Rheingold, 2000, p. 28); utepils (Norwegian),
i.e. drinking beer outside on a hot day; and Schnapsidee
(German), an ingenious plan one hatches while drunk.
This whole area of revelry is encapsulated by the Bali-
nese ramé, namely something at once chaotic and joyful.
We might also mention: desbundar, Portuguese for shed-
ding one’s inhibitions in having fun; the neglected Eng-
lish verb deliciate, which refers to luxuriating in
pleasure; Thai sabsung, which signifies being revitalised
through something that livens up one’s life; German
Feierabend, which articulates the festive mood that can
arrive at the end of a working day; and the multipurpose
Dutch adjective lekker, which can mean anything from
relaxed and comfortable to pleasurable and sexy.

A slightly more complex class of words also pertains
to pleasure, yet encompasses feelings of safety. Perhaps
on account of their cold climes, Northern European cul-
tures have terms for ‘cosiness’ that are highly valued,
going beyond mere physical comfort to express emo-
tional and even existential warmth and intimacy (van
Nes, Abma, Jonsson, & Deeg, 2010). These include
koselig (Norwegian), mysa (Swedish), hygge (Danish),
gezellig (Dutch), and both Gemütlich and Heimlich in
German. (That said, as Freud (1955) pointed out, the lat-
ter has ambivalent nuances. In signifying ‘homely’, it
can also allude to that which is concealed from outsiders,
and in requiring secrecy in this way, becomes ‘uncanny’
and frightening.) Related to these are terms articulating
contentment, including: tilfreds (Danish), meaning satis-
fied and ‘at peace’; Geborgenheit (German), expressing
the feeling of being protected and safe from harm;
Swedish trygghet, embodying ‘security, safety, confi-
dence, certainty and trust’ (Andersson-Segesten, 1991,
p. 43); and the Welsh cwtch, literally meaning to hug,
but also a safe, welcoming place.

In contrast, cultures in more temperate climates have
fashioned words for more expansive and outgoing expe-
riences of savouring. Such savouring includes leisurely
strolling the streets, captured by the French verb flâner
and the Greek volta (βόλτα). These not only refer to tak-
ing in the sights and conversing with passers-by, but in
their lack of destination, also a sense of freedom and
possibility. Emphasising fresh air and health, the Dutch
uitwaaien means to walk in the wind for fun. Also with
an appreciation of nature, Japanese shinrin-yoku (森林
浴) is the relaxation gained from ‘bathing’ in the forest
(figuratively and/or literally), while Swedish gökotta
means waking up early with the purpose of going out-
side to hear the first birds sing.

Then we find words expressing stronger states of
happiness. Some pertain to joy, like: simcha (Hebrew);
me yia (με γεια; Greek), which is a blessing of good
health for others; and suaimhneas croi (Gaelic), depicting

a state of happiness encountered specifically after a task
has been finished. Others surpass even joy, including:
njuta (Swedish), a profound experience of appreciation,
verging on bliss; tarab ( سوماق ; Arabic), a ‘musically-
induced state of ecstasy [or] enchantment’ (Racy, 2004,
p. 6); Herrliches Gefühle (German), made famous by
Goethe, described as ‘glorious feelings’ (Wierzbicka,
1999, p. 18); and eudaimonia (ευδαιμονία; Greek). The
latter is used in PP to depict a sense of fulfilment and
flourishing (Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008), but in its original
context refers to being infused with the grace of the

Finally, there are terms depicting states of happiness
which, while intense, are yet stable and lasting, less
dependent on specific situations, such as the Chinese
xìngfú (幸福) and Sanskrit sukha (सुख). In Buddhism,
sukha is used to mean ‘genuine’ happiness, in contrast to
the more fleeting hedonic forms captured by anand
(आनन्द) or khushii (खुशी). However, sukha does not
generally refer to positive feelings that one ‘happens’ to
experience, but is a state of flourishing rooted in ethical
and spiritual maturation (Wallace, 2007). Indeed, tradi-
tions such as Buddhism are replete with even more posi-
tively qualified mental states, like nirvāna (निर्वाण;
Sanskrit), an ‘ultimate’ form of happiness, involving
complete and lasting freedom from suffering (Kang &
Whittingham, 2010). We shall touch further on the idea
of pursuing ‘deeper’ forms of happiness through spiritual
practices in the third section below.

Complex feelings

Not all feelings pertaining to well-being are strictly posi-
tive per se. Here, we consider a class of states that are
more complex and ambivalent, but are nevertheless
highly culturally valued. Some appear ostensibly nega-
tive, but there is a sense that these are somehow integral
to life, as if one would not be living fully without being
able to experience these. Indeed, all capture the notion
that flourishing is dialectical, a complex blend of light
and dark elements (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015), as reflected
in the Chinese symbol yin-yang (陰陽). Separately, yin
means cloudy/overcast, and yang ‘in the sun’ (i.e. shone
upon), and together these imply the two sides of a moun-
tain (one sunlit, one in shadow). This image is thus used
to articulate the idea of ‘holistic duality’, i.e. that reality
comprises co-dependent opposites (Fang, 2012). In their
various ways, then, the feelings here are a dialectical
blend of positive and negative states of mind, together
producing a rich and complex sensibility.

Some of these feelings concern hope and anticipa-
tion. As Lazarus (2003) pointed out, these heightened
emotions are ‘co-valenced’, a tantalising blend of savour-
ing the future combined with fear that it will not come
to pass. There is magari (Italian), roughly meaning

The Journal of Positive Psychology 549

‘maybe’, but which also encompasses ‘in my dreams’
and ‘if only’, articulating both a hopeful wish and wist-
ful regret. Similarly, Indonesian belum means ‘not yet’,
but with an optimistic tint that an event might yet hap-
pen. In Inuit, iktsuarpok refers to the anticipation one
feels when waiting for someone, whereby one keeps
going outside to check if they have arrived. In German,
Vorfreude is the intense, joyful anticipation derived from
imagining future pleasures, although this does depend on
a strong likelihood of attainment. Rather more melan-
cholic is the Korean han (한), a culturally important
term expressing sorrow and regret, yet also a quiet sense
of waiting patiently in the hope that the adversity caus-
ing the sadness will eventually be righted.

Related to han are words pertaining to longing and
yearning that are often at the heart of their respective
cultures. In Portuguese, saudade is a melancholic long-
ing/nostalgia for a person, place or thing that is far away
– either spatially or in time – a vague, dreaming wistful-
ness for phenomena that may not even exist (Silva,
2012). Similarly, toska (tocкa; Russian) and hiraeth
(Welsh) articulate a complex mix of nostalgia, wistful-
ness and longing for one’s homeland (Wierzbicka, 1999).
In Japanese, natsukashii (懐かしい) is a nostalgic longing
for the past, with happiness for the fond memory, yet
sadness that it is no longer. The German Sehnsucht trans-
lates as ‘life longings’, i.e. an ‘intense desire for alterna-
tive states and realisations of life’, even (or especially) if
these are unlikely to be attained (Scheibe, Freund, &
Baltes, 2007, p. 778).

Related to terms of longing are those expressing a
desire for freedom. These include Fernweh in German,
described as the ‘call of faraway places’, or a homesick-
ness for a place one has never been to (Gabriel, 2004,
p. 155), and the well-known Wanderlust. Similarly, in
Spanish, vacilando depicts the idea of wandering, where
the act of travelling is valued more than the destination.
In Russian, prostor (простор) captures a desire for spa-
ciousness, roaming free in limitless expanses, not only
physically, but creatively and spiritually (Pesmen, 2000,
p. 67). Finally, German Waldeinsamkeit articulates the
feeling of solitude when alone in the woods, a mysteri-
ous state described by Schwartz (2007, p. 201) as the
‘pseudo-magical pull of the untamed wilderness; a place
of living nightmares caught between the dreamscape and

Finally, there are words capturing the complex aes-
thetic feelings evoked through contemplation of the
world. Both Swedish and Turkish have terms for the glim-
mering that moonlight makes on water, mangata and
gumusservi, respectively, and there are words for the
sound of wind rustling through trees (psithúrism;
ψιθύρισμ; Greek), falling leaves (listopad; лиcтoпaд;
Russian) and sunlight filtering through leaves (koromebi;
木漏れ日; Japanese). Then there are words that articulate

the act of appreciation itself. Japanese is particularly rich
in these. Aware (哀れ) is the bittersweetness of a brief,
fading moment of transcendent beauty, while mono no
aware (物の哀れ) is the pathos of …

Culture and Subjective Well-Being: Conceptual and
Measurement Issues
By Shigehiro Oishi, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Oishi, S. (2018). Culture and subjective well-being: Conceptual and measurement issues. In E. Diener,
S. Oishi, & L. Tay (Eds.), Handbook of well-being. Salt Lake City, UT: DEF Publishers.

The present chapter reviews conceptual and measurement issues related to culture and subjective well-being
(SWB). Historically, the concepts of happiness gradually shifted from good luck and fortune to the
satisfaction of desires and goals. There are still large cultural variations in the concepts of happiness (e.g.,
fragility). The majority of the popular scales (e.g., the Satisfaction with Life Scale, the Subjective
Happiness Scale) have been successfully translated into various languages. However, most scales have not
been subjected to sophisticated psychometric analyses (e.g., Item Response Theory). Cross-cultural mean
comparisons require some caution due to cultural differences in response style, self-presentational
concerns, and memory and judgmental biases. In addition to the use of advanced statistical techniques, the
use of qualitative and non-invasive measures is recommended.
Key Words: Culture, Subjective Well-Being, Measurement, Concepts of Happiness

Happiness is used to describe at least two distinct psychological states. The first common use is to
describe an individual’s momentary affective state (e.g., feeling happy at this very moment, which is
typically accompanied by a smile on the face). The second common use is to depict an individual’s
relatively permanent state of being well (e.g., feeling happy about one’s life in general or how one’s life is
going). Subjective well-being (SWB) researchers are typically interested in the latter happiness, as it reflects
one’s entire life more closely than the momentary affective state of happiness. Among researchers, the term
SWB has been used since Diener (1984) to refer to an individual’s relatively longstanding state of being
well. Since some researchers think that a relatively permanent state of well-being should include other
dimensions of human excellence, other terms such as psychological well-being (PWB) and eudaimonic
well-being have been used (Ryan & Deci, 2001; Ryff, 1989). Yet, other researchers have advocated that
meaning in life is another aspect of being well (Heintzelman & King, 2014; Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler,
Among psychologists, the main debate concerning the concepts of well-being has centered on
hedonic versus eudaimonic well-being (Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Ryff,
1989). Among philosophers, the main debate has centered on the meaning of eudaimonia, the term ancient
Greeks used to describe a good life or living well. For some, eudaimonia means living a virtuous life, while
for others it is living a complete life with a sense that nothing is missing (Nussbaum, 1986/2001). Yet,
other philosophers attach non-moral excellence to the notion of eudaimonia. For instance, Haybron (2016)
argues that eudaimonia could be best described as nature-fulfillment in terms of capacity-fulfillment and
goal-fulfillment. Thus, there is not yet a consensus on the notion of eudaimonia among philosophers (see
41 definitions of eudaimonia in Vittersø, 2016). However, it is clear that most philosophers view
eudaimonia to capture living well in terms of virtues, excellence, and fulfillment of human potentials that
go beyond a much narrower notion of meaning or purpose in life.
In the current chapter, we will focus on cultural and historical variations in the concepts and
measurements of happiness and life satisfaction, as empirical research on SWB has focused on happiness
and life satisfaction (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2015; see Oishi & Gilbert, 2016; Uchida & Oishi, 2016 for a


general review on culture and SWB). Then, we will discuss substantial measurement-related issues on
cross-cultural comparisons of SWB.
Historical and Cultural Variations in Concepts of Happiness
The historian Darrin McMahon (2006) provides a comprehensive review on historical changes in
the concept of happiness. The ancient Greek term eudaimon consists of eu (good) and daimon (god, spirit,
demon). Thus, the concept of eudaimonia “contains within it a notion of fortune-for to have a good daimon
on your side, a guiding spirit, is to be lucky” (McMahon, 2006, p .3-4). He went on to state that “happiness
is what happens to us, and over that we have no control” (p. 19). Similarly, the philosopher Martha
Nussbaum (1986/2001) argues that “events beyond our control may affect, for good or ill, not only our
happiness or success or satisfaction but also central ethical elements of our lives; whether we manage to act
justly in public life, whether we are able to love and care for another person, whether we get a chance to act
courageously” (p. xiv). Whereas ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato (but not Aristotle)
denied the role of luck in ethical understanding, Nussbaum observes that ancient Greek poets recognized
the central role of luck in human happiness. Nussbaum goes on to argue that “by ascribing value to philia
in a concept of the good life, we make ourselves more vulnerable to loss” (p. 361, philia = love). Overall,
the ancient Greek concepts of happiness centered on fortune and good luck, which are external and fragile.
According to McMahon (2006), the concept of happiness became less fragile and more controllable
in the 13th century. Specifically, McMahon describes that St. Thomas Aquinas proposed a new view on
happiness, namely that happiness was attainable via achieving theological virtues of charity, hope, and
faith. The result was a divine gift of being blessed. In the 16th century, with the rise of Lutheranism and
Calvinism, the concept of happiness became even more agentic in that not just the achievement of
theological virtues but also calling to engage in some economic activities would bring happiness. Over
time, the ancient concept of happiness that centers on being “beyond one’s control” has gradually
transformed to the agentic concept of happiness that is within one’s reach.
Although there is a historical change in the concept of happiness described by McMahon (2006), it
is also true that the luck and fortune notion of happiness has not completely disappeared. For instance,
dictionary definitions of happiness in 30 nations (Oishi, Graham, Kesebir, & Galinha, 2013) revealed that
24 of the 30 nations studied (Australia, Brazil, China, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia,
Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mozambique, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania,
Russia, Senegal, Singapore, and Turkey) had good luck and fortune as definitions of happiness.
Related to the cultural differences in the dictionary definitions of happiness, the linguist Anna
Wierzbicka (2004) observed that the English terms ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’ are broad and could describe a
minor positive event, whereas the French, Polish, German, and Russian terms are more specific and
describe only a rare positive event. Wierzbicka states, “Happy-unlike heureux, scastlivyj, and glucklich -is
not restricted to exceptional states (like bliss), but rather is seen as referring to states within everyone’s
reach. There is nothing exceptional about being happy” (p. 38). It is possible that the good luck and fortune
definition of happiness connotes a relatively rare state of bliss, whereas other definitions (e.g., satisfaction
of desires) imply that happiness is common.
Interestingly, earlier definitions of happiness in Webster’s Unabridged English Dictionary (e.g.,
1850, 1853, 1861, 1888, 1895, 1910) had good luck and fortune as the primary definition (Oishi et al.,
2013). However, in the 1961 edition, the definition of “good luck and good fortune” was denoted as
“archaic.” Oishi et al. (2013, Study 2) then analyzed the use of the terms happy and happiness in the State
of the Union addresses from 1790 to 2010 and found that the good luck and fortune use disappeared around
1920. In addition, the Google Ngram Viewer search of “happy nation” and “happy person” showed that
“happy nation” appeared more frequently than “happy person” in published books in the U.S. from 1800
until around 1920. However, since then, “happy person” has appeared more frequently in American books
(Oishi et al., 2013, Study 3). These analyses show that until around 1920, the terms “happy” and
“happiness” in American English might have been referring to lucky external conditions.
Several programs of empirical research have also revealed cultural variations in the connotation of
happiness. For instance, Lu and Gilmour (2004) found that Americans tend to associate excitement and
success with happiness, whereas the Chinese tend to associate peace and calm with happiness. Similarly,
Jeanne Tsai and her colleagues found that Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese value low-arousal positive
affect such as calmness, whereas Americans typically value high-arousal positive affect such as excitement
(Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). Interestingly, Taiwanese children’s books depicted a mild smile more often
than a wide smile, whereas American children’s books depicted a wide smile more often than a mild smile
(Tsai, Louie, Chen, & Uchida, 2007). Similarly, Christian texts often use high arousal positive emotions,
whereas Buddhist texts often use low arousal positive emotions (Tsai, Miao, & Seppala, 2007). Given that


American concepts of happiness center on achieving of one’s goals, it makes sense that the resulting
emotions are excitement and pride. In contrast, given that Chinese conceptions of happiness center on luck,
the resulting emotional state might not be excitement but rather akin to gratitude and satisfaction.
Uchida and Kitayama (2009) also explored Japanese concepts of happiness using free
associations. They found that Japanese spontaneously mentioned that happiness could disrupt interpersonal
relationships via evoking envy and jealousy in others. In contrast, Americans’ descriptions were concerned
mostly with personal achievement and positive hedonic experiences (e.g., joy, smiling). Whereas happiness
is construed among Americans as a bond between people (e.g., smile is a gateway to a new friendship),
happiness in Japan is a potentially dangerous emotion that could disrupt important social relationships.
Interestingly, several studies showed that Chinese expect a bad thing after a series of good things,
whereas Americans tend to expect a good thing after a series of good things (Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001). This
particular Chinese thinking style, dialecticism, has an important implication for the concepts of happiness.
Namely, those who believe in dialecticism should be worried about their current happiness, as happiness is
likely to be followed by unhappiness. Indeed, when Joshanloo and colleagues (2014) explored the potential
pitfalls of happiness using the fear of happiness scale (sample items include “I believe the more cheerful
and happy I am, the more I should expect bad things to occur in my life,” “disasters often follow good
fortune” and “excessive joy has some bad consequences”), Hong Kong Chinese endorsed the fear of
happiness items far more than Brazilians and New Zealanders. Similarly, Koreans tend to hold the belief
that there is a fixed amount of happiness one can experience akin to a fixed amount of luck (Koo & Suh,
2007). Thus, if a Korean person feels happy (lucky) today, she is likely to say she might not be happy
(lucky) tomorrow because she is using up all her happiness (luck) today. Just like ancient Greek poets
(Nussbaum, 1986/2001), many East Asians today hold the fragile view of happiness (see also Miyamoto &
Ma, 2011).
Related to the fragility of happiness, the Hindu notion of happiness is dramatically different from
the American notion of happiness today. Srivastava and Misra (2003) argue that Hindu Indians view
happiness and sorrow as the results of past lives and not just the present ones. To the extent that one has no
control over past lives, Hindu concepts of happiness appear to be consistent with the ancient Greek view.
Furthermore, Srivastava and Misra observe that Hindu Indians tend to feel happiness when they sacrifice
their material possessions and/or respond to others’ needs. Like Buddhist traditions, Hindus see attachment
to objects as a cause of suffering. Thus, Hindu happiness is concerned with the attainment of ananda, or “a
transcendental journey from a lesser self fraught with hedonistic concerns to a greater self that involves
realization of connectedness or oneness” (Nagar, in press).
Islamic conceptions of happiness are also quite different from the American notion of happiness.
Joshanloo (2013) argues that Islamic conceptions of happiness are fundamentally anti-hedonic. He cites
Shiite writer Musawi Lari: “One who seeks happiness through the pursuit of pleasures will find nothing
except anxiety and bafflement…The more that we succeed in subduing our lusts and desires, the closer
shall we move to happiness” (p. 1862). In addition to stoicism, the Islamic view of happiness is squarely
centered on the fear of, total submission to, and worship of God. It also includes the concept of perishable
body and an everlasting soul.
Finally, in some cultures, the concepts of happiness are more physical in nature. For instance, the
Fante speakers of Ghana describe happiness/excitement literally as “eye-get” (“anigye”) and
joy/contentment as “eye-agree/reach” (“anika”), in contrast with shame as “eye-die” (“aniwu”) and guilty
as “eye-put” (“anyito” in Dzokoto & Okazaki, 2006). These descriptions suggest that among the Fante
speakers of Ghana, happiness and associated positive emotions are eye-catching and easy on the eyes,
whereas shame and guilt are hard on the eyes. Interestingly, Dzokoto and Okazaki (2006) found that the
Dagbani speakers of Ghana describe happiness as “white heart,” peace as “heart at rest,” anger as “agitated
heart,” and sadness as “destruction of the heart.” These descriptions suggest that for the Dagbani speakers
of Ghana, positive emotions are physically low arousal states, whereas negative emotions are physically
aroused, agitated states. These physical descriptions of happiness suggest that for the Fante and the
Dagbani speakers of Ghana, the concepts of happiness are tied to objective bodily reactions to external
events and less concerned with the satisfaction or fulfilment of one’s desires and goals, which tend to be
more subjective, internal, and mentally constructed.
In sum, good luck and fortune has been a dominant definition of happiness around the world since
antiquity (McMahon, 2006; Oishi et al., 2013). However, the meaning of happiness has expanded and
changed over time in different parts of the world (due in part to different religious beliefs and economic,
social, political, and physical conditions). The diversity in the concepts of happiness across cultures and
time poses a major challenge to empirical research on happiness (see below how scientists have approached
this issue). However, it is also important to note that the inquiry into diverse concepts of happiness using


diverse methods has enriched our understanding of what it means to be in a relatively permanent state of
being well.
Measurement of Happiness Across Cultures
One of the first happiness scales was developed by George Hartmann (1934). He asked respondents
to rate on the following single item: “If you compare yourself with others of the same sex and age, how
would you rate your own general happiness? Use this definition as a guide: ‘A relatively permanent state of
well-being characterized by dominantly agreeable emotions ranging in values from mere contentment to
positive felicity.’ Give due weight to both inner and outer factors or manifestations: most unhappy of all, a
great majority of persons are happier than you are, a slight majority of other people are happier than you
are, about average, somewhat happier than the general run of mankind, far happier than the great majority
of human beings, the happiest of all” (p. 206). One-month test-retest reliability was .70, and the correlation
with informant reports was .34. In 1946, a 3-point happiness item (“Take altogether, how would you say
things are these days-would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy”) was included in a
national survey (Easterlin, 1974). In 1965, Hadley Cantril used a single-item ladder scale (0 = the worst
possible life; 10 = the best possible life). Unlike Hartmann, Cantril’s scale was used to measure the
subjective evaluation of life accomplishments (more similar to life satisfaction than the feeling of
happiness). These single-item measures of happiness and life satisfaction have been used widely in large
international surveys such as the World Values Survey and the Gallup World Polls.
Multiple-item scales. Bradburn (1969) was the harbinger of positive psychology that emerged in
the late 1990s. He was already concerned that researchers in the 1950s and the 1960s were preoccupied
with mental illness and not paying enough attention to mental health. He used the conceptual model of
well-being similar to “older pleasure-pain or utility models that view an individual’s happiness or well-
being in terms of the degree to which pleasure predominates over pain in his life experiences” (p. 9). To
measure the degree to which pleasure predominates pain in life, Bradburn developed a 10-item scale called
the affect balance scale (ABS). The five positive items were as follows: (1) “Pleased about having
accomplished something?” (2) “That things were going your way?” (3) “Proud because someone
complimented you on something you had done?” (4) “Particularly excited or interested in something?” (5)
“On top of the world?” (answered in the Yes/No format). Bradburn overturned the prevailing assumption
about positive and negative affect being the opposite ends of one dimension and showed that positive
affect and negative affect are relatively independent; that is, there are people who are high in both positive
and negative affect, as well as those who are low in positive and negative affect. It is also noteworthy that
decades later the Gallup World Polls adopted the affect items similar to Bradburn’s ABS, using the yes-no
Devins et al. (1997) explored cross-cultural equivalence of the affect balance scale with Chinese,
Vietnamese, and Laotian refugees to Canada (those who arrived in 1979-1981). The researchers could not
translate the item “Have you been feeling on top of the world?” into South Asian languages. Thus, they
used only 9 items that were translatable. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that the remaining 9 items
formed two factors (positive and negative affect), just like in an English-speaking Canadian sample. It
should be noted, however, that these items capture mostly high arousal positive emotions that are deemed
more ideal for North Americans than East Asians. Furthermore, MacIntosh (1998) analyzed the World
Values Survey data from 38 nations, and found that the full 10-item, 2-factor solution did not fit data in
most nations. (Curiously, the 2-factor model fit best in Nigeria, where CFI was .90 and RMSEA was .056,
and South Africa, where CFI was .94, and RMSEA was .061; in other nations, fit was worse.)
Watson (1988) criticized the affect balance scale for having relatively low internal reliability (alpha
= .54 for positive, .52 for negative affect) and poor convergent validity with other affect measures. Instead,
Watson, Clark, and Tellegen (1988) developed the 20-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
(PANAS). Like the ABS, the PANAS items focused on high arousal positive affect such as excited,
enthusiastic, and inspired. When Japanese psychologists, Tokihiro Ogawa and colleagues (Ogawa, Monchi,
Kikuya, & Suzuki, 2000), developed an emotion scale, they included items such as ゆっくりした
(slow/relaxed), のどかな (rustic/peaceful), 静かな (quiet/tranquil), and the low arousal positive affect
formed a distinct factor from general positive and negative affect. The general emotion scale created by
these Japanese psychologists did not include pride. Similarly, Hamid and Cheng (1996) asked Hong Kong
Chinese to nominate 10 emotion words and created the Chinese Affect Scale. This scale included low
arousal states such as comfortable, relaxed, and peaceful, as well as agreeable (more interpersonal affective
state). The Chinese Affect Scale also does not include pride. Therefore, it is not surprising that pride is not
a part of the positive affect factor among Asian samples (Scollon, Diener, Oishi, & Biswas-Diener, 2005),
nor does it correlate highly with general positive emotion (Kitayama, Markus, & Kurokawa, 2000). It is
also noteworthy that when Thompson (2007) created the international PANAS by testing out the original
PANAS items with culturally diverse samples, the resulting positive affect items were determined,


attentive, alert, inspired, and active (i.e., enthusiastic, strong, interested, excited, and proud dropped out).
Whereas the ABS, the PANAS, and other emotion scales were focused on happiness and other
positive emotional experiences as an indicator of emotional well-being, other researchers assessed an
evaluative dimension of a relatively permanent state of well-being, that is how an individual sees her/his
life to be. Lyubomirsky and Lepper (1999) developed the 4-item subjective happiness scale (SHS), which
is very similar to Hartmann’s (1934) scale. The SHS items are the following: (1) “In general, I consider
myself…1 = not a very happy person to 7 = a very happy person” (2) “Compared to most of my peers, I
consider myself…1 = less happy and 7 = more happy” (3) “Some people are generally very happy. They
enjoy life regardless of what is going on, getting the most of out of everything. To what extent does this
characterization describe you?” and (4) “Some people are generally not very happy. Although they are not
depressed, they never seem as happy as they might be. To what extend does this characterization describe
you?” (reversed item). As the SHS focuses on a trait-like happy person, test-retest reliability was quite high
(one-month test-retest reliability, r = .85 to .90; one-year test retest reliability, r = .55). The SHS has been
successfully translated into Japanese (Shimai, Otake, Utsuki, Ikemi, & Lyubomirsky, 2004), Malay
(Swami, 2008), German and Tagalog (Swami et al., 2009).
Among many scales to measure a relatively permanent state of being well, the Satisfaction with Life
Scale (SWLS: Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) is the most popular in psychology. The 5-item
scale of life satisfaction captures several aspects of being well: favorable objective external conditions
(Item 2: “The conditions of my life are excellent”), a small gap between reality and ideal (Item 1: “In most
ways my life is close to my ideal”), goal-fulfillment (Item 4: “So far I have gotten the important things I
want in life”), and positive evaluation of life (Item 3: “I am satisfied with my life,” Item 5: “If I could live
my life over, I would change almost nothing”).
Oishi (2006) evaluated the cross-cultural equivalence of the SWLS between Chinese and American
university student samples. First, when the one-factor model with free factor loadings was examined using
the multi-group structural equation model (SEM), the fit was acceptable (GFI = .981; RMSEA = .06). The
standardized factor loadings were all above .67 among the U.S sample, whereas they were high for the first
three items (.62, .66, .72) among the Chinese sample. The goal fulfillment item was .49, and the last item,
“If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing,” was the weakest with .38 (see similar results
for Orang Asli, aboriginal people in Malaysia in Howell, Howell, & Schwabe, 2006). When factor loadings
were constrained to be the same between the two samples, Item 5: “If I could live my life over, I would
change almost nothing,” was the only item that showed an item bias (constraining this item to be
equivalence decreased the fit significantly worse). When Oishi (2006) used the differential item function
(DIF) analysis of the Item Response Theory (IRT), which models not only factor loadings but also item
difficulty, 4 of the 5 items showed a significant item bias. In particular, Item 4: “So far I have gotten the
important things I want in life” and Item 5: “If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing”
showed large DIFs. It is interesting to note that the most equivalent item was explicitly concerned with
favorable external conditions: “The conditions of my life are excellent.” In contrast, two items regarding
the past accomplishments showed a large discrepancy. Namely, among Chinese students, those who
endorsed favorable external conditions were not necessarily those who endorsed goal fulfillment items.
Among American students, those who endorsed favorable external conditions were those who endorsed
past accomplishment items. Overall, the results of the IRT analyses were consistent with the conceptual
analyses discussed above (Lu & Gilmour, 2004; Tsai et al., 2006). Furthermore, given that the good luck
and fortune definitions are prominent in many cultures (Oishi et al., 2013), the first three items of the
SWLS might be the most appropriate, least biased life satisfaction items across many cultures (see Tay,
Huang, & Vermunt, 2016; Tay, Meade, & Cao, 2015 for the application of IRT in cross-cultural research).
It is also noteworthy that some researchers modified the SWLS to fit a local culture and education
levels of respondents. For instance, Biswas-Diener and Diener (2001) used the 7 faces (1 = frown to 7 =
extreme smile) instead of 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree when they administered the SWLS to
slum dwellers and sex workers in Calcutta, India.
Alternative measures. Global, retrospective measures of SWB have been criticized on various
grounds (e.g., Kahneman, 1999; Schwarz & Strack, 1999). One issue is concerned with memory bias, in
that global measures might not capture everyday affective experiences. To address this issue, experience
sampling method (ESM), in which respondents were prompted to report their momentary mood at random
moments, has been used in cross-cultural research on SWB (e.g., Oishi, 2002; Oishi, Diener, Scollon, &
Biswas-Diener, 2004; Scollon et al., 2005). Some researchers used the time-contingent recording (e.g.,
noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm in Mesquita & Karasawa, 2002). In addition, daily diary method has been
utilized to gather daily life satisfaction and positive emotional experiences (Kitayama, Mesquita, &
Karasawa, 2006; Oishi et al., 2007). Due to these methods often being taxing to participants, some
researchers relied on Day Reconstruction Method (DRM: Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, &


Stone, 2004), in which respondents were asked to recall various episodes in the morning, in the afternoon,
and in the evening of the previous day (Oishi, Kurtz, Miao, Park, & Whitchurch, 2011; see Diener & Tay,
2014 for a review on DRM).
In addition to “online” measures, others have used informant reports to address some of the
judgmental bias issues. Saeki et al. (2014), for instance, used informant reports and found that Japanese
informants (the target’s friends) tended to view the target’s life satisfaction to be higher than the target
him/herself, d = .51. Although in terms of domain satisfaction, the differences were much smaller (e.g.,
satisfaction with weather, d = .10; satisfaction with love life, d = .02).
With the rise of implicit measures (e.g., Implicit Association Test: IAT), several researchers have
attempted to develop an implicit, reaction-based measure of SWB. For example, Constantini et al. (in press)
developed the IAT-based positive orientation scale and found a small but positive correlation with the
SWLS, r = .24, p < .001 (however, it is equally strongly correlated with global self-esteem, r = .23, p < .001, as well). Yamaguchi et al. (2007) found that Japanese reported lower levels of global self-esteem explicitly than Americans, but their IAT-based self-esteem was as high as Americans. Thus, … 20 Comparing Subjective Well-Being across Cultures and Nations The "Whatn and "Whyn Questions EUNKOOK M. SUH andjAYOUNG Koo Diener's (1984) landmark review paper published in Psychological Bulletin sparked numerous lines of research activities under the heading of subjective well-being. One research area that started to create its own niche i:n the early 1990s was the field of culture and subjective well-being. This period overlapped with the publi ­ cation of prominent articles on culture (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989), and also :with the growing recognition that subjective well-being should be understood as an individual-level as well as a collective-level phenomenon. A number of early articles set the stage for this field and challenged some of the prevalent opinions of the time. In particular, three papers are noteworthy. Diener, Diener, and Diener (1995) found that one of the strongest predictors of national differences in subjective well-being was the degree of collectivism­ individualism (even after controlling for national income level). This was a very important finding because at the time economic factors were deemed most criti ­ cal for the occurrence of national differences in subjective well-being. An article by Diener and Diener (1995) also drew attention because it suggested that self­ esteem, a psychological factor traditionally deemed indispensable for mental health in the West, seemed far less crucial in determining subjective well-being 414 415 Subje~tive Well-Being across Cultures and Nations m other cultures. Finally, Diener, Suh, Smith, and Shao (1995) demonstrated that several methodological artifacts that may plague cross-cultural research (e.g., response bias, translation) do not completely explain the subjective well-being differences between cultures. The reasons underlying cultural differences in sub­ jective well-being levels seemed to be substantial ones (e.g., difference in emo­ tion norms) rather than methodological errors . Prompted by these initial research issues, the field of culture and subjective well-being has grown rapidly in a short span of time. Figure 20.1 shows the number of publications Gournal articles, books, dissertations) · found by PsycINFO using the combined keywords of culture and well-being from 1991 to 2005. In a single decade (from 97 during 1991-1995 to 481 during 2001-2005), there has been roughly a fivefold increase in the sheer number of publications on this topic! Along with the quantitative increase, a special issue published by the Journal ef Happiness Studies (Suh & Oishi, 2004), an Annual Review ef Psychology chapter (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003), and an edited volume (Diener & Suh, 2000) has been recently devoted to the topic of culture and subjective well­ being. Given the highly vibrant research activities during the past decade, it seems like an C?PPOrtune time to evaluate and digest the major findings from this pro­ ductive period and to target the set of issues that warrants more concentrated research attention in the upcoming years. Although a wide array of questions ,has been investigated during the decade, many of those were serial efforts prompted by the two large questions set up by the early papers. What are the key compo­ nents of subjective well-being across cultures (Diener & Diener, 1995)? Why do national/cultural differences in mean levels of subjective well-being occur (Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995; Diener et al., 1995)? 500 450 400 350 Number of 300 Publications 250 200 150 100 50 0 1991-1995 1996-2000 2001-2005 Period FIGURE 20. 1. Total number of publications on culture and well-being from 1991 to 2005. Data from PsycINFO. 416 SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING IN THE INTERPERSONAL DOMAIN It is not the goal of this chapter to offer an exhaustive review of the latest research. Rather, attention is selectively centered on a few lines of findings that have been particularly influential in informing us of the interplay between cul­ ture and subjective well-being. Also, because the vast majority of empirical data come from East Asian (e.g., Japan, Korea, China) and U.S. samples, discussions focus most often on these two cultural regions. What Makes Up Happiness across Cultures? Virtually all human beings-from Nigerians to Peruvians to French-Canadians­ think happiness is a desirable state. The precise affective experiences, the recom­ mended means, and the conceptualizations surrounding this ultimate human desire, however, seem to show cultural variations. An analogy is provided by humor: Everyone across the globe enjoys humor, but each cultural group is drawn to particular types of humor and has different ways of telling a joke. This analogy naturally raises two questions. First, what are the most popular types ofjokes in each culture and how are they delivered? This is akin to asking what the culture-specific contents of happiness are. The second (and tougher) question is whether the jokes in some cultures are intrinsically more hilarious than those of others, and if so, why (i.e., why are some cultures happier than others?). A decade of research offers some insights on these two questions. Let's begin with the relatively easier one-what makes up happiness in different cultures? . To begin, there seem to be some cultural differences in the definitional accounts ofhappiness. Although this idea is hardly surprising, empirical investiga­ tion on this topic has been scarce, in part because of the practical and method­ ological difficulties posed by qualitative data. However, Lu and Gilmour (2004) recently asked Chinese and U .S. students to write essays on "What Is Bappi­ ness?" Although both groups agreed that happiness is a positive, desirable state of the mind, the Chinese emphasized spiritual cultivation and transcendence of the present, whereas the Americans' account of happiness was comparably more uplifting, elated, and emphasized the enjoyment of present life. Also importantly, the Asian respondents expressed the desire for a balanced emotional life and underlined the importance offulfilling social expectations in their overall sense of happiness. The Americans, in · contrast, asserted the importance of personal agency over social restrictions and believed that the pursuit of personal happiness cannot be compromised in any way. Recent empirical findings (for review, see Diener et al., 2003; Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004) strike a similar cord with the open-ended responses documented by Lu and Gilmour (2004). Generally speaking, the criti­ cal predictors of happiness among W estem cultural members are comprised of 417 Subjective Well-Being across Cultures and Nations elements that promote, signify, and maintain a highly independent and agentic mode of being. Important predictors of happiness in the East, on the other hand, seem to affirm the fundamental interconnectedness between the self and signifi­ cant others (Kitayama & Markus, 2000). Among the wide array of specific affec­ tive, cognitive, and motivational phenomena that support this general picture, several findings stand out. First, the role of emotion in people's judgment and experience of subjective well-being seems to vary. Compared to individualistic cultural members, collec­ tivists are less inclined to equate an emotionally "happy life" with a "good, satis­ fying life." The correlation between affect balance (relative frequency of pleasant minus unpleasant emotions) and overall life satisfaction is much weaker in collec­ tivist than in individualistic nations (Schimmack, Radhakrishna, Oishi, Dzokoto, & Ahadi, 2002; Suh, Diener, Oishi, & Triandis, 1998). The relatively idiosyn­ cratic and unique nature of emotional experience may embody less significance compared to social cues, such as the opinions held by others in one's life (c£ Pot­ ter, 1988) . In direct support of this idea, when the social connectedness of self­ identity is primed, individuals pay greater attention to how their life is appraised by significant others than to their inner emotions in their life satisfaction judg­ ment process (Suh, Diener, & Updegraff, in press). Another interesting finding in the affect and subjective well-being area is that pleasant emotional experience, such as happiness, explicitly requires a social component in East Asian cultures. According to Kitayama, Markus, and Kurokawa (2000), happiness is associated more strongly with interpersonally engaging emotions (e.g., friendly feelings) in Japan, whereas it is more closely related with interpersonally disengaging emotions (e.g., pride) in the United States. In a related line, Park, Choi, and Suh (2006) recently found that the amount of pleasantness reported by Koreans while engaging in a task varied sig­ . nificantly between interpersonal conditions-whether they collaborated with a friend or a stranger. This discriminative emotional experience pattern was espe­ cially prominent among individuals with a strong interdependent self In other words, the "with whom" factor seems to loom large in determining the experi­ ence of pleasant emotions of those with a strongly relation-oriented identity. Research on motives and goals is another piece in the what puzzle. Given the centrality of others in conceptualizations of self-identity, the happiness of Asian Americans, more so than European Americans, is elevated after fulfilling goals that are directed to please or receive approval from significant others (Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Oishi & Diener, 2001; Oishi & Sullivan, 2005). On surface, these findings may seem inconsistent with recent claims that, regardless of culture, self-directed goals are more conducive to subjective well-being than externally imposed goals (e.g., Chirkov, Ryan, & Wiliness, 2005; Sheldon et al., 2004). How should we reconcile this latest controversy on goals and subjective well-being? The key seems to be the degree of internalization of the culturally 418 SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING IN THE INTERPERSONAL DOMAIN sanctioned values. Even among East Asians, not all derive greater pleasure from fulfilling parental expectations than from engaging in personally rewarding activi­ ties. It depends on whether the person following the parent's desires feels coerced and obligated or is acting spontaneously with sincere pleasure. The cultural dif­ ference is that the probability of encountering a person who genuinely prefers to satisfy his or her parents' wishes before his or her own is higher in the East than West. Regardless of the content of the behavior, it seems reasonable to conclude that humans, by design, have a greater chance of experiencing positive experi­ ences when they do "what they enjoy and believe in" (Sheldon et al., 2004, p. 220). Much of the cultural variations documented in this area seems to be about the "what" part; the "enjoy and believe in" part seems universal. Finally, several dispositional qualities that were traditionally believed to be essential for mental health are being reevaluated in a cross-cultural context. For instance, recent findings suggest that psychologists might have overestimated the importance of having a strong sense of personal control (Morling, Kitayama, & Miyamoto, 2003), high self-esteem (Diener et al., 1995; Chen, Cheung, Bond, & Leung, 2006), and a consistent self-identity (Suh, 2002) in the achievement of mental health. These are important findings that highlight the power of cultural influence. At the same time, however, it is important not to overinterpret the data. At an intracultural level, even in Eastern cultures, individuals with high self­ esteem and a more consistent self-identity are happier than those who score low on these dimensions. These constructs seem less critical in predicting the person's subjective well-being in the East only in an intercultural sense (compared to the West). To date, no psychological quality has been found that strongly and consis­ tently correlates with subjective well-being in opposite directions between cul­ tures. Returning to our humor analogy, the types of jokes that are most popular in one culture may not be the most enjoyed ones in another. That is, a great deal of cultural nuance exists in the conceptualization of, and in the shades of experiences related with happiness. However, are these differences simply a matter of different cultural tastes, or do they partly explain why some cultures are happier than others? With this key question in mind, we move on to the next section. Why Are Some Cultures Happier Than Others? ·-. Arguably-one of the most solid findings from the cross-cultural/national research on subjective well-being is that individualistic nations are happier than collec­ tivistic countries (Diener et aL, 1995; Diener & Suh, 1999; Veenhoven, 1999). The mean-level difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures, to some extent, arises from societal and political factors confounded w:ith individu­ 419 Subjective Well-Being across Cultures and Nations alism (e.g., income level , Diener et al., 1995; democracy, Inglehart & Klinge­ n1ann, 2000; political empowerment, Frey & Stutzer, 2002). However, a decade of research makes it clear that these socioeconomic con­ ditions alone are insufficient for explaining why individualistic nations consis­ tently report higher levels of happiness than collectivistic nations. Besides income level or political structure, cultures also vary along a wide spectrum of psycho­ logical habits and characteristics that are related to the experience and expressions of happiness. For instance, emotion norms (Eid & Diener, 2001), socialization of emotions (Diener & Lucas, 2004), and cognitive biases (Diener, Lucas, Oishi, & Suh, 2002; Oishi, 2002) associated with happiness vary considerably across cul­ tures. A recent study by Rice and Steele (2004) further implies that cultural differ­ ences in subjective well-being may reflect something more than the objective conditions of life. They found that the relative ranking of the subjective well­ being levels ofAmericans with ancestors from 20 different nations is quis..e similar to the subjective well-being levels obtained from the citizens of the correspond­ ing nations. By surveying U.S. residents only, this study controls for many of the confounding social-condition factors between cultures/nations. The findings by Rice and Steele suggest that the cultural agents that influence subjective well­ being might be quite amorphous and stubborn, and this might partly explain why national differences in subjective well-being are temporally so stable (Inglehart & Klingemann, 2000; Veenhoven, 1999). One key reason for examining mean differences in subjective well-being between nations/cultures is to gain insights about the collective conditions that enhance or suppress human happiness. At first brush, individualism and collectiv­ ism neither seems to have a clear edge in producing higher subjective well-being (c£ Diener & Suh, 1999). Different cultural members may prefer different activi­ ties and experiences in their pursuit of happiness, but one might think that the different paths are equally potent means for reaching the destination. If this is the case, should we expect the "perfect Japanese" to be every bit as happy as a "per­ fect American"? Many of the current investigators in this field may answer "yes" to this question; however, it is quite plausible that the answer is "no." A strong version of cultural relativism (i.e., different cultural strategies for achieving happiness are equally viable; they are merely different in content) would find it difficult to explain why the difference in subjective well-being level between individualistic and collectivistic societies remains so robust. All cultures are evolved to efficiently resolve pressing human needs, such as reproduction or safety needs. However, ecological opportunities and restrictions configure the nuts and bolts that sustain each cultural system, including its norms, values, prac­ tices, and central ideologies (Triandis & Suh, 2002). Among the various meta­ assumptions held by cultures, particularly significant is the one concerning the re­ lation between the individual and the society. Certain cultures are built around 420 SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING IN THE INTERPERSONAL DOMAIN the premise that the individual exists for the larger collective unit; in other cul­ tures, the opposite is assumed. Crudely speaking, collectivism is prototypical of the former type of culture, and individualism is a prime example of the latter. Most important to our discussion, these two contrasting cultural schemes may not be designed to produce the same type of cultural capital (see Ahuvia, 2002). Collectivism has its ultimate sight on social order and harmony, and hence the system constantly reinforces and idealizes the type of self that is able to keep its desires in check for the greater goods of the family, group, and community. Self-regulation is sanctioned over self-expression, and fulfillment of social obliga­ tions comes before discussions of personal rights and preferences. In contrast, individualism believes in the irrevocable value, power, and capabilities of, ·liter­ ally, the individual. The normative cultural expectation is that each person should be self-directive and self-sufficient, and find, consolidate, and uplift the best within the sel£ Self-actualization, the key word in the discussion of ideal liv­ ing in the West, encapsulates these beliefs. In the East, in contrast, people are encouraged to perfect the inner attributes of the self for a social reason-to be used appropriately for the service of the larger society (Cho, 2006). Between the two cultural systems, which one has an edge in producing "happy individuals"? This chapter suggests two general possibilities for why indi­ vidualistic cultures may have the advantage. First, greater sacrifice of instinctive needs and desires is required to live an "appropriate" collectivist than an individ­ ualist life. As Freud (1930/1961) claimed in Civilization and Its Discontents, con­ flict and friction between individual desires and social constraints is the rule rather than an exception. In the continuous bargain between the self and society, the individual gives up his or her instinctive impulses in exchange for social rewards. One of the biggest social awards is social acceptance by others (Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Twenge, 2005), which is more crucial for the functioning of a collectivistic than an individualistic pattern of life. As a result, by necessity, collectivist cultural members are more likely than individualists to curb their instinctive, self-gratifying desires (often including personal happiness) in their bargain for social approval. One might argue that the social gains (e.g., social approval, respect) may fully make up for the negatives of giving up personal desires in collectivistic cul­ tures. This would be a valid argument only if one unit of social reward translated to an exactly equivalent amount of personal happiness in Eastern cultures. This idea seems rather unrealistic:. AJ.though it is true that social rewards constitute a very important part of the collectivist's sense of personal happiness, incorµmensu­ rable differences still remain between the two. Social rewards are strongly related to happiness in the East, but still, it is not happiness itself In fact, several scholars have argued that even in collectivistic cultures, peo­ ple who adopt individualistic values report higher levels of subjective well-being and self-esteem than the more collective-minded ones (Heine, Lehman, Markus, 421 Subj ective Well-Being across Cultures and Nations & Kitayama, 1999). Preliminary findings from Korean university samples indicate that subjective well-being is related positively with independent self-construal and negatively with the interdependent self-view (Koo & Suh, 2006). Similarly, from mainland Chinese and Taiwanese samples , Lu and Gilmour (2006) found that the frequency of experiencing positive emotions is related more closely with the independent than the interdependent self. The above findings have an important implication. They seem to go against the idea that those who enjoy high levels of happiness are people who have psy­ chological dispositions that fit into the cultural template (e.g., being interdepen­ dent in collectivistic cultures). Rather, these latest findings imply that, regardless of the cultural context, the independent styles of thinking and behaving may have a more direct connection to personal happiness than the collectivistic approach. However, the individualistic strategies will meet a "tipping point" where the personal costs incurred by ignoring collective demands start to out­ weigh the positive payoffs. Collectivist cultural members confront this tipping point more often, and in more domains of life, than individualist cultural mem­ bers. Secondly, collectivism may nurture various dispositional qualities that unin­ tentionally create potholes in the road to happiness. It seems that the East Asian self-system is optimized for maintaining social connections with others. How­ ever, a self that is preoccupied with social concerns m.ay acquire a wide range of psychological characteristics-motivational, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral-that create friction in the pursuit of personal happiness (see Suh, in press, for a detailed discussion). For instance, at a cognitive level, the highly socially oriented self construes and evaluates itself more often by concrete and specific social criteria (e.g., gaining admission to a top college) than by idiosyn­ cratic terms. Many findings demonstrate that chronic reliance on explicit external criteria, such as social comparison information, is related with lower levels of subjective well-being (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1997; White & Lehman, 2005) . This is because external social standards allow less latitude in interpretation and therefore are more difficult to tailor to the advantage of the self than idiosyncrati­ cally defined standards (e.g., Dunning & McElwee, 1995). Other disadvantages could occur at the motivational and behavioral levels for the highly collectively oriented East Asians. When the focal concern is fulfill­ ing social obligations and living up to the expectations of others (as in Japan), failing to meet these standards ha,_s a bigger blow than the rewards for surpassing them (Heine et al., 2001). In the long run, individuals in such cultures find themselves framing goals more in prevention-oriented than in promotion­ oriented terms (Elliot, Chirkov, Kim, & Sheldon, 2001). This is unfortunate because a large body of evidence indicates that positive emotions and subjective well-being are inherently related to approach-oriented behaviors, thoughts, and neurological processes (e.g., Elliot & Thrash, 2002; Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 422 SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING IN THE INTERPERSONAL DOMAIN 2000; Updegraff, Gable, & Taylor, 2004; Urry et al., 2004). Finally, at the level of emotion, the experience and expression of positive affect are not as much ide­ alized in Eastern cultures as in the West (Eid & Diener, 2001; Diener & Lucas, 2004; Diener & Suh, 1999). This is probably because East Asians believe that strong positive emotions (pride, happiness) have a potential to disrupt interper­ sonal harmony or lead to negligent behaviors. Such beliefs may have a cost. They could discourage individuals from engaging in various behavioral and cognitive practices that are found to enhance or prolong subjective well-being (see Larsen & Prizmic, Chapter 13, this volume), such as capitalizing on positive life events (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). In conclusion, it is worth questioning whether the ultimate blueprint of all cultures is to enhance happiness at a personal level. Some cultures, such as East Asian collectivistic societies, might have arrived at the present form because it maximized the chances of maintaining collective harmony and order. Believing that happiness is meant to be the goal of life could be a view most representative of contemporary Western cultures. For the Future Merely a decade ago, the terms subjective well-being and culture were rarely paired together in the research agendas of psychologists. In a relatively short span of time, however, the almost nonexistent field has become a highly active research area of subjective well-being. Much research has accumulated during the past decade, thanks to innovative studies, bold ideas, and improvements in measure­ ments and data analyses strategies. In short, the past decade has been an extremely fruitful one. Following are a few research agendas that might make the upcoming decade an even more productive one. First, it is hoped that the methodological arsenals in this field continue to develop and expand in the upcoming years. Various developments have occurred in the areas of measurement (e.g., Kim, 2004; Scollan, Di~ner, Oishi, & Biswas­ Diener, 2004; Suh & Sung, 2006) and statistical methods (e.g., Eid & Diener, 2001). Particularly promising is the finding by Scallon et al. that different mea­ surements render similar conclusions about the relative position of the subjective well-being of different cultural groups. Hopefully, future studies will include two types of powerful data that are currently missing in the field: longitudinal and brain imaging techniques. . At the conceptual level, two questions seem particularly worthy of future investigation. First, what are the consequences of happiness in different cultures? Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) offered compelling evidence that positive affect, at least in the United States, is a cause of many desirable life outcomes. Does this finding hold· true in cultures that express somewhat ambivalent atti ­ 423 Subjective Well-Being across Cultures and Nations tudes about happiness? It seems extremely unlikely that happiness is a personal liability in any culture. However, the particular life domains in which the happy person benefits the n1ost and the magnitude of this outcome need to be deter­ mined empirically, especially through longitudinal data. Another highly promising research candidate is the study of lay theories about happiness. One important reason for why various aspects of subjective well-being differ across cultures is because different cultural members have dif­ ferent ideas about the genesis, attainability, desirability, and outcomes of happi­ ness. Whether such lay beliefs are really true is not the point; what is impor­ tant is the fact that the way happiness is represented in people's mind (even if incorrectly) affects virtually every decisions and judgments made about happi­ ness. To illustrate, unlike Western cultural members, East Asians take a more dia­ lectic perspective on the relation between happiness and unhappiness (Kitayama & Markus, 1999; Suh, 2000). One outcome of such belief is the prediction of future happiness. For instance, the happiness that has linearly increased since the past is expected to reverse its future trajectory by Chinese, whereas Americans believe that the trend will continue Gi, Nisbett, & Su, 2001). Prediction of hap­ piness is related to another type of lay belief In an ongoing line of research (Koo & Suh, 2006), we are examining people's belief about whether a fixed or an unlimited amount of happiness exists in their personal lives and in the world. As expected, the "finite amount" theory holders were reluctant to capitalize on pos­ .itive events (probably fearing that happiness would vanish), predicted that future fortune would reverse the current trend, and perceived overly happy people as being naive and immature. Understanding the lay beliefs about happiness will offer refreshing insights about why, when, and how people feel happy in differ­ ent cultures. In Closing There is limited scientific value in merely describing cultural differences in sub­ jective well-being. Such descriptive efforts, however, are necessary for under­ standing the various why questions that arise in the study of culture and subjective well-being. One question that has occupied the minds of many researchers is why happy people are more easily found in individualistic than in collectivistic cultures. In search for the ans~er, the possibility that cultures are not equally enthusiastic about the idea ofpromoting individual happiness needs full consider­ ation. This line of thinking does not imply that certain cultures are intrinsically better than others; it simply means that different cultures might have different opinions about … 1 HOW UNIVERSAL IS HAPPINESS? Ruut Veenhoven Chapter 11 in Ed Diener, John F. Helliwell & Daniel Kahneman (Eds.) International Differences in Well-Being, 2010, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN-13: 978-0-19- 973273-9 ABSTRACT There is a longstanding discussion on whether happiness is culturally relative or not. The following questions are addressed in that context: 1) Do we all assess how much we like our life? 2) Do we appraise our life on the same grounds? 3) Are the conditions for happiness similar for all of us? 4) Are the consequences of happiness similar in all cultures? 5) Do we all seek happiness? 6) Do we seek happiness in similar ways? 7) Do we enjoy life about equally much? The available data suggest that all humans tend to assess how much they like their life. The evaluation draws on affective experience, which is linked to gratification of universal human needs and on cognitive comparison which is framed by cultural standards of the good life. The overall appraisal seems to depend more on the former, than on the latter source of information. Conditions for happiness appear to be quite similar across the world and so are the consequences of enjoying life or not. There is more cultural variation in the valuation of happiness and in beliefs about conditions for happiness. The greatest variation is found in how happy people are. Key words: happiness, life satisfaction, cultural relativism, human nature, utilitarianism INTRODUCTION The recent rise of interest in happiness has revived classic discussions about the nature of happiness. One of these discussions centers on whether happiness is similar for all humans or rather something that varies across cultures. In the universalist view, happiness is comparable to “pain.” All humans know what pain is, will experience pain when touching a hot stove, and tend to avoid pain. In the relativistic view, happiness is more comparable to “beauty,” the idea of which varies across time and culture. Picasso’s paintings are not appreciated by everybody, nor does everybody seek only beauty1. This discussion links up with wider issues, among which is the longstanding debate about the merits of utilitarian moral philosophy. Its “greatest happiness principle” assumes that happiness is something universal. If different in different cultures, happiness cannot serve for the evaluation of cultures. If culturally variable, the definition of happiness can also Correspondence: Prof. Dr. Ruut Veenhoven Erasmus University Rotterdam, Faculty of Social Sciences, P.O.B. 1738 3000 DR Rotterdam, Netherlands. www2.eur.nl/fsw/research/veenhoven www2.eur.nl/fsw/research/veenhoven mulder Rectangle change over time, and happiness is therefore not a strong criterion for public choice within cultures. These arguments have been presented repeatedly, with few conclusions arising from the discussions, due to a lack of empirical proof for either position. In this chapter, I inspect what our new knowledge about happiness can tell us about this old controversy. Has a decade of empirical research made us any wiser on this matter, or are we still as much in the dark as the nineteenth-century armchair philosophers who criticized utilitarianism on this ground? 1.1 Concept of happiness A preliminary step is to define happiness, since some of the things denoted using this word can be less universal than others things called by the same name. I use the word “happiness” for a subjective state of mind, which I define as the overall appreciation of one’s life as –a whole. I have elaborated this definition in earlier publications (Veenhoven, 1984 chapter 2; Veenhoven, 2000). This definition fits Jeremy Bentham’s classic notion of happiness as “the sum of pleasures and pains.” Happiness in this sense is synonymous with “life satisfaction” and “subjective well-being”2. Additionally, I distinguish two “components” of happiness: an affective component and a cognitive component. The affective component is how well one typically feels. I call this the hedonic level of affect. The cognitive component is the perceived difference between what one has and what one wants in life, which I call contentment. I assume that these components serve as subtotals in the overall evaluation of life. 1.2 Sub-questions The question “How universal is happiness?” is too broad to answer, since there are different facets of happiness, which may be more or less universal. Hence I will break down the main question into the following sub-questions: 1) Do we all appraise how much we like life? 2) Do we appraise life on the same grounds? 3) Are the conditions for happiness similar for all humans? 4) Are the consequences of happiness similar around the globe? 5) Do we all seek happiness? 6) Do we seek happiness in similar ways? 7) Are we about equally happy in all cultures? Since the focus of this chapter is on cultural variations in the nature of happiness, I do not deal with the cross-cultural measurement of happiness. Cultural measurement bias may distort the data on which this chapter builds in several ways, but the literature suggests that the degree of distortion is not alarming (see, e.g., Diener & Oishi, 2004; Veenhoven, 2008c). Some issues in cross-cultural measurement of happiness are discussed in the chapter by Oishi (2009) in this volume. 1.3 Data source Most of the empirical data used in this chapter are taken from the World Database of Happiness (Veenhoven, 2008), which is a collection of research findings on happiness as defined above. References are made to sections of this database. In each of these sections one can find standardized descriptions of research findings and links to the original publication. Citing these all separately would be unwieldy. 2 Question 1: DO WE ALL APPRAISE HOW MUCH WE LIKE LIFE? Above, I distinguished between overall happiness and its components and assumed that the components serve as subtotals in the overall evaluation of life. Do all humans appraise their life in these ways? 2.1 Hedonic level of affect Like other higher animals, humans experience positive and negative affects. This is not just something we know from our own experience, it is also something we can recognize in the facial expressions of other people all over the world (Ekman, 1970). Using brain imaging we can now also observe part of the neural processes that make us feel so (e.g., Davidson, 2004) and these neurological structures do not differ across cultures either3. The balance of positive and negative affects is reflected in the hedonic tone of “mood.” Though mood is something we are aware of, it is mostly not in the foreground of our consciousness. Still, it is assessable, and we can estimate how well we feel most of the time. Babies are not yet able to engage in such reflection, but they still experience happy or unhappy moods. Although they cannot report how they typically feel, their mood level can be assessed using behavioral indications. This case of babies illustrates that one can be happy without having a concept of happiness in mind. Adult humans know typically how well they feel most of the time and this appears in the practice of measurement. When asked how well they usually feel, people answer instantly. The non-response rate tends to be small. Self-ratings of average hedonic level do not differ much from the balance scores scientists compute from responses to multiple questions about specific affects4 and do not differ substantially from ratings based on experience sampling5 or from ratings by intimates6. 2.2 Contentment Unlike their fellow animals, humans can develop ideas of what they want from life and then compare these aspirations with the realities of their life. This faculty is not present from birth on, but develops on the road to adulthood. There is no doubt that all adults have wants, even ascetics who want to denounce all wants still have the desire to denounce wants. There is also no doubt that most adults have an idea of how well their wants are being met, at least about important wants. Wants are often not very specific, and few people have clear priorities in mind; nevertheless, most people have no problem in estimating of how successful they are in getting what they want from life. Several survey studies have involved questions about what one wants from life and the degree to which one sees these wants being met. A common question is: “So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life” (item in Diener’s “Satisfaction with Life Scale,” Diener et al., 1985). The responses tend to be prompt, and the percentage of respondents who use the “Don’t know” option is very low. So, apparently, this question links up with something people have in mind. Even if people have no overall judgment of success already in mind, they appear able and willing to make one when asked. This appears in the practice of focused interviews, in life-review interviews in particular. Like in the case of hedonic level it is not required that people have made up their mind: an external observer can estimate someone’s overall contentment based on that person’s reported success in meeting specific wants. 2.3 Overall happiness Given the above, it is no surprise that people have no problem in reporting how much they like their life-as-a-whole. Responses to questions on overall happiness are typically prompt. If not, happiness would not be such a common item in survey research. The non-response level to questions on happiness is typically low. Fewer than 1 percent use the “Don’t know” option7, and few people skip the question8. (See Scheme 1.) Non-response is much higher on questions about other issues such as income and political preference. Questions on life- satisfaction are also easily answered in non-modern societies, such as the Inughuit, the Amish, and the Maasai (Biswas-Diener et al., 2005). 3 Question 2: DO WE APPRAISE LIFE ON THE SAME GROUNDS? As mentioned above, I assume that we appraise our life in two ways: affectively, by assessing how well we feel; and cognitively, by comparing life-as-it-is with how we want-life-to-be. This theory is summarized in Scheme 2. 3.1 Hedonic level depends on gratification of universal “needs” Why can we experience pleasure and pain? The biological function is evidently to signal that things are good or bad for us. Evolution has programmed us this way. What, then, is the function of mood? Clearly not to signal specific benefit or danger: unlike pleasure and pain, moods are typically not related to specific stimuli and certainly not average mood level over longer periods of time. Mood level seems to function as a meta-signal and indicates how well we are doing on the whole. Feeling good means that all lights are on green and that we can go ahead, while feeling bad means that there is something wrong and that we should check what that is. This affective signal mechanism seems to exist in all higher animals, and its neural basis is found in the evolutionarily eldest parts of the human brain. What, then, is “doing well”? I assume, but cannot prove, that this is meeting innate “needs.” Needs are requirements for functioning that are so essential that evolution has safeguarded their gratification by linking these functions to affective signals. This is pretty evident in the case if “deficiency needs” such as hunger, but it seems also to apply to “growth needs” such as curiosity9. In this view, happiness is rooted in the gratification of basic needs that are part of human nature. In that respect happiness draws on universal grounds. I have discussed this theory in more detail elsewhere (Veenhoven, 1991, 2009). 3.2 Contentment depends on meeting culturally variable “wants” Why do we have wants? Mainly to gratify universal needs. In lower animals, needs are met by means of instinctive behaviors. The human strategy is more flexible than that and allows need gratification though planned behavior. “Wants” are a part of that planning. What do we want? Part of the answer is that we tend to adopt current standards of the good life; e.g., the standard of what material level of living is desirable and possible. These standards vary across time and culture; today we want more material comfort than our great- grandparents could dream of, and standards are higher in American business circles than in Tibetan monasteries. In this view, happiness is rooted in social standards and in this respect is culturally relative. For a recent statement of this view, see Chambers (1999). 3.3 Affective experience dominates in the overall evaluation of life In this line of thought, the question of how universal “happiness” is boils down to the question which of these two ways of appraising life is the most important. I have considered this question in earlier publications (Veenhoven, 1991, 2009) and concluded that affective experience dominates the overall evaluation of life. Below I will summarize the main arguments and present some more evidence. 3.3.1 Theoretical plausibility From an evolutionary point of view it is not plausible that cognitive contentment dominates our overall appraisal of life. Cognition developed much later and serves as an addition to affective appraisal rather than a substitute. Reason helps explain why we feel good or bad and allows detection of false affective signals, although it is difficult to ignore these, as depressives can tell you. Affective appraisal tends to precede cognitive decision (Zajonc, 1984), and without affective appraisal we cannot come to a decision, as cases of brain damage demonstrate (Damasio, 1994). From this perspective it is also unlikely that humans orient by variable cultural standards in the first place, rather than by needs that are rooted in biological evolution10. The limited role of cognitive comparison is also illustrated by the fact that it does not exist in little children, who as yet have no idea of what they want from life. Still, it is clear that children can be happy or unhappy, and there is typically no great change in happiness when they develop wants. 3.3.2 Empirical indications Since we cannot (yet) look into people’s heads, there is no direct empirical evidence of the relative strength of both ways of appraising life. Still, there are several indirect indications. Overall happiness more correlated to affect than contentment: If affective experience dominates the overall appraisal of life, this must appear in sizable correlations with overall happiness and more sizable correlations than with contentment. Unfortunately, there are no reports of studies involving measures of all three of these variants of happiness, so we must make do with studies that correlated either happiness with affect or overall happiness with contentment. The findings of such studies are stored in the World Database of Happiness, which distinguishes measures of overall happiness (coded “O”), measures of affect level (coded “A”) and measures of contentment (coded “C”). Eight studies link self-ratings of overall happiness and average affect and find an average correlation of +.7011. Another 13 studies relate responses to global questions on overall happiness and contentment and find an average correlation of +.4612. Not surprisingly, the correlation between hedonic level and contentment is weaker. The average in three studies is +.4013. An even lower correlation was observed in the recent Gallup World Poll, the correlation between Best–Worst possible life and Yesterday’s Affect being around +.20 (Harter & Arora, 2009). Happy with unfulfilled aspirations: If happiness depends on seeing one’s wants met, people must be unhappy when they have unfulfilled aspirations and increasingly unhappy the more unfulfilled aspirations they have. Yet people with unfulfilled aspirations appear to be happier than people without, and more so the more unfulfilled aspirations they have (Wessman, 1965, p. 210)14. This finding fits better with the theory that we have an innate need to use our potentials, since unfulfilled aspirations provide an aim to achieve. Happy in spite of value–reality gap in nation: If contentment drives happiness in the first place, we can expect that people are happier in nations where the values endorsed are perceived to be met than in nations where a gap between value and reality is perceived to exist. This is not always the case; for instance, not with “gender equality” and “human orientation” as measured in the Globe study in 62 societies (House et al., 2004). Average happiness is higher in nations where the widest gaps between ideal and reality are perceived to exist on these issues, probably because this marks respect for humanistic values. Happiness drives contentment rather than the reverse: The right arrow in Scheme.2 denotes a “bottom-up” effect of contentment on overall happiness. Above, I have interpreted the observed correlations in this way. Yet causality can also be “top-down,” overall happiness affecting the perception of the gap between what one wants and what one has. Analysis of a panel study has shown that causality typically works this way. In this study, discrepancies (gaps) were assessed between how respondents rated their present life on a 20-step scale and ratings of what they wanted from life (expectations, aspirations, entitlements) on the same ladder scale. Comparison over time showed a significant top-down effect but no bottom-up effect (Headey & Veenhoven, 1989, p. 117). So it seems that contentment is largely driven by happiness. If we feel good, we infer that we have most of the things we want, and if we feel bad we start looking for what we might miss. Though affect seems to dominate the overall appraisal of life, it does not dominate equally everywhere. Correlations between overall happiness and affect balance tend to be stronger in individualistic nations than in collectivist ones (Suh et al., 1998). Likewise, the relative weight of positive and negative affect differs somewhat across cultures. Negative affect is more strongly correlated to overall happiness in individualistic nations than in collectivist ones, while positive affect correlates more with overall happiness in nations where self-expression values are endorsed than in nations where the focus is more on survival (Kuppens et al., 2008). (Scheme 3) 4 Question 3: ARE CONDITIONS FOR HAPPINESS SIMILAR ACROSS CULTURES? Do we need the same conditions to be happy? Or can some people be happy in conditions that render other people unhappy? Below, I will consider this question on two levels: the macro level of nations and at the micro level of individuals within nations. 4.1 Much uniformity in societal requirements for happiness Average happiness differs markedly across nations: the highest average on a 0 to 10 scale is currently observed in Denmark (8.4) and the lowest in Zimbabwe (3.2)15. There is a clear system in these differences. People live more happily in the most modern nations, in particular in nations characterized by economic development, freedom, rule of law, and good governance. The societal characteristics set out in Scheme 4 explain no fewer than 75 percent of the differences in average happiness in nations16. Societal progress in these matters is likely to have fostered the recent rise of happiness in modern nations (e.g., Inglehart et al., 2008). Interestingly, the societal conditions that make people happy are not always the conditions they value. For instance, average happiness is markedly lower in nations where women are discriminated against (ChinHonFoei, 2007), but this practice is widely approved in most of these countries. Likewise, corruption brings down happiness even in societies where favoritism is seen as a moral obligation. 4.2 Much uniformity in required living conditions within nations There are also differences in individual happiness within nations. In a happy country like Denmark, 5 percent of the people still rate 5 or lower on the 0–10 scale, and in an unhappy country like Zimbabwe, some 13 percent score 8 or higher. Are the reasons for high and low scores similar across nations? Below, I consider some living conditions for which cross- national data are available. Freedom Not only is average happiness higher in free countries, but within countries individuals are also happier the more control they have over their life. This appears, among other things, in strong correlations between personal happiness and perceived freedom and control all over the world17. Social rank People are typically happier on the upper steps of the social ladder than at the bottom. This appears in findings on relative income position18, occupational prestige19, subjective class identification20 and indexes of socio-economic status21. The differences tend to be bigger at the lower end of the hierarchy. Though the correlations with happiness differ in size, they are positive all over the world. This finding fits the view that we have an innate need for social respect. Like other group animals, we are hardwired to avoid a bottom position. Marriage Adults are typically happier when living with a spouse than when single. The difference is around half a point on scale from 0–10 and is largely independent of income, gender, and age. Again the size of the difference varies somewhat across time and nations, but the pattern is clearly universal22. This finding fits the view that we are social animals, hardwired to form pairs. Personality Cross-national research on the relationship between happiness and personality is limited as yet, but the available data suggest that extroverted people tend to be happier23 across a variety of nations (Lucas et al., 2000) and that neurotics tend to be less happy in all cultures. Once more, there is difference in the size of the effects. For instance, the effect of self-esteem appears to be stronger in individualistic cultures than in collectivist cultures (Oishi et al., 1999). Still the direction is the same everywhere. This is not to say that all conditions for happiness are universal. One notable exception is “education.” Although there is a correlation between average happiness and level of education in countries, the most highly educated individuals are not always happier. Correlation between happiness and education vary between –.08 and +.2724. 5 Question 4: ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAPPINESS SIMILAR? Research into happiness has focused on its determinants in the first place; however, there is also a strand of investigation into the consequences of enjoying life or not (Veenhoven, 1989a; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Fredrickson (2004) has summarized much of the findings in the “broaden and build theory” of positive affect. Although most of this research has been done in Western nations, the observed effects are also likely to exist in other parts of the world. 5.1 Happiness fosters functioning Happiness appears to encourage engagement, while unhappiness tends to instigate withdrawal. This appears as greater engagement in activity at work25 and in leisure26. The energizing effect of happiness manifests also in social behavior: happiness predicts the formation of friendships27, entering marriage28and participation in voluntary organizations29. There is also experimental evidence of happy moods’ broadening perception and enhancing creativity30. All this is compatible with the above-mentioned theory that happiness works as a “go signal”, and that this effect seems to exists also in other higher animals. If so, the effect is likely to be universal. 5.2 Happiness lengthens life Another illustrative finding is that happiness fosters physical health31 and that happiness therefore lengthens life considerably32. One of the mechanisms seems to be that happiness encourages the full functioning of mind and body and thus keeps us in shape. Another mechanism is probably that unhappiness triggers the fight or flight response, since it signals that there is something wrong. It is well known that this automatic reaction makes an organism economize on other functions, among them the immune response. In this line, Cohen (1995) has demonstrated experimentally that unhappiness makes people more susceptible to catching a common cold. The above are essentially biological reactions that are unlikely to differ much across cultures. Possibly there are effects of happiness that do differ across cultures, but for the time being, it is the universality strikes the eye. 6 Question 5: DO WE ALL SEEK HAPPINESS? It is rather evident most humans prefer a happy life to an unhappy one. Still, this does not mean that happiness is the main driver in human motivation, nor that happiness is valued universally. 6.1 Happiness is a universal human striving, though not innate In the first lines of his famous Principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy Bentham (1789) stated that human behavior is governed by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. There is much truth in this theory of motivation, yet happiness is not the only driver of human behavior, at least not happiness in the sense of overall life-satisfaction. Like other mammals, we are driven by different needs, such as hunger, sex, love, and curiosity, which have developed subsequently through evolution. All these needs are linked to hedonic signals, but their gratification is not only sought for the sake of pleasure. For instance, we want sex for the sex, and we do not settle for the esthetic pleasure of reading poetry instead. Still, pleasure is a main driver of human behavior. Yet pleasure is not quite the same as life-satisfaction. Short-term pleasures can be at the cost of long-term happiness, and in such cases humans do not always look to the long term. Our fellow animals are driven by primary motives, but in humans consciousness also gives rise to secondary motives, such as figuring out who we are and seeking an answer to questions about the meaning of life. Wentholt (1980) calls this “universal strivings”, which he distinguishes from “organic needs”. The pursuit of long-term happiness is one of these universal strivings. Though not “innate” as such, it is an inclination that develops in most humans as a result of their consciousness. While this inclination manifests in all cultures, it does not necessarily appear in all individuals. Happiness is typically not an issue for people who are trying to survive in the first place, and some opt to forsake happiness for ideological reasons. 6.2 Happiness is valued in most societies, though possibly not in all Happiness seems to be positively valued in all nations of our time. This is at least suggested by a study among university students in 47 nations in the 1990s (Diener, 2004). These students were asked to rate the importance of several values, such as wealth, health, and love. Happiness ranked highest in the importance rating, with an average of 8 on a scale of 1 to 9. Ratings ranged between 8.7 and 7.3, and there is thus no country in this study where happiness is deemed unimportant. This is not to say that happiness has always been prized in all human cultures. Though all humans have a natural inclination to pursue happiness, cultures can go against that inclination just as some cultures go against the natural drive for sex. What cultures denounce happiness? Unfortunately cultural anthropology cannot tell us, since this discipline has a blind eye for happiness (Thin, 2006). Still, there are indications that in the past, miserable societies tended to glorify suffering rather than happiness33, and that collectivist cultures emphasize the well-being of groups rather than the well-being of individuals. One can think of reasons why cultures come to depreciate happiness. When life is miserable, it may be comforting to believe that happiness is no good after all, and renouncing happiness may be functional for engaging people in common causes such as war. Next to such macro-societal functions, internal factors can be involved, such as cultural distinctions between groups in a society. This seems to have been one of the reasons for the sexual …

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