Article image

The meaning of happiness depends on where you live

The meaning of happiness depends on where you live. In a new study from UC Riverside, researchers have analyzed how people define and measure happiness across 63 different countries. The experts found that the meaning of happiness varies depending on where you live.

Most happiness studies have been focused on the western world, but these concepts are not universal. According to the researchers, happiness is tied to independence in the West, while Eastern happiness is closely related to interdependence.

“Accordingly, the prevailing conceptualization of happiness is consistent with a historically Protestant, self-centered worldview that emphasizes personal worthiness and hard work to obtain positive outcomes, and sees happiness as a personal achievement,” wrote  the study authors.

“The East Asian world view has been described as one in which the self is more entwined with others, such that personal happiness depends on position connections in social relationships,” explained study lead author Dr. Gwen Gardiner. 

“The Eastern ideologies of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism emphasize the interconnectedness of everyone and everything, prioritizing harmony and balance over individual achievement.”

For example, Koreans talk about “happiness” and “family” in the same breath. Furthermore, past research has shown that even a smile – the most obvious measure of happiness – takes on a different meaning in the East than it does in the West.

To investigate, the UC Riverside researchers set out to determine which tests of happiness would be most effective among 15,368 participants from 63 countries all over the world, including North and Central America, Canada, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. 

The study was focused on the Subjective Happiness Scale developed in the United States and the Interdependent Happiness scale developed in Japan. The volunteers were surveyed online in 42 different languages.

The Western measure proved to be the most reliable scale for measuring happiness among people in Western European countries including Belgium, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the Western scale was not as effective at determining happiness in Eastern countries such as China, Japan, and Vietnam. This subjective measure of happiness also performed poorly in African countries.

The Eastern measure, which was focused on interdependence, was found to be most reliable in Asian countries including Japan and South Korea. The study showed that this interdependent measure of happiness did not vary nearly as much across countries as the independent measure. 

Both measures were highly reliable in the United States and Japan, which was particularly interesting to the researchers. “For us, this result was particularly interesting and surprising because, typically, the U.S. and Japan are the prototypical countries used to highlight cross-cultural differences in cultural psychology,” said Dr. Gardiner. “But in this case, they were much more similar to each other.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day