A holistic view of happiness: belief in the negative side of happiness is more prevalent in Japan than in the United States

PSYCHOLOGIA (Impact Factor: 0.09). 01/2011; 53(4):236-245. DOI: 10.2117/psysoc.2010.236


Two studies tested the hypothesis that while Americans believe that happiness is an enduring positive state to be pursued by each individual, Japanese believe that it is a positive, but transitory interpersonal moment fraught with negative consequences such as others' envy and a reduced ability to attend to one's surroundings. Study 1 used a standard questionnaire method to show that people in Japanese cultural contexts have a more holistic concept of happiness than do people in European-American cultural contexts. Study 2 showed that this Japanese holistic view of happiness is associated with a holistic worldview rather than personal subjective well-being. This suggests that the holistic view of happiness is related to a dialectic thinking style prevalent in Japanese culture and unrelated to individual levels of subjective well-being. One Japanese woman was in a favorable situation. She was recently married, had a new job, and was living in a new and beautiful city. One day, however, she was injured. As a result, she was unable to walk for a month and had a difficult time completing the daily tasks many people take for granted, such as shopping and commuting to work. Such "lay theories" of happiness are quite prevalent in Japanese culture because people in that cultural context frequently believe that having too many positive outcomes is a sign of "negative things to come." In addition, they worry about negative consequences of feeling happiness, including the jealousy of others or a loss of motivation. For example, many Japanese think that if they feel happy, they will no longer put forth their greatest effort, thus diminishing their capacity for self-improvement. Notably, however, this kind of lay theory, called the holistic view of happiness, would be less likely to be accepted by European-American cultures than Japanese culture.

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Available from: Yukiko Uchida
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    • "Particularly productive is the cross-cultural research around positive emotions, the affective dimension of happiness. While in Western countries happiness is characterized by an exclusively positive emotional valence, in East Asian ones it is often associated with a mixture of positive and negative emotions (Uchida, 2011). In the individualistic United States positive emotions are linked to the ideals of independence and personal achievement (Kitayama et al., 2006), while in collectivistic countries emotions connected to relations, such as interpersonal engagement, are predominant (Kitayama et al., 2000;Ford et al., 2015). "
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