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Happiness not valued equally across cultures

Mar 19 2014, 18:25 IST
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SummaryMany individuals and cultures tend to be averse to happiness, fearing that enjoying the moment will cause something bad to happen later on, a new research has found.

Many individuals and cultures tend to be averse to happiness, fearing that enjoying the moment will cause something bad to happen later on, a new research has found.

The research is the first to review the concept of aversion to happiness, and looks at why various cultures react differently to feelings of well-being and satisfaction.

"One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value," said Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

The researchers believe that being raised in a culture that does not value happiness could encourage a person to back away from it.

However, an aversion to happiness exists in both Western and non-Western cultures, although happiness is more valued in the West, researchers said.

In American culture, it is almost taken for granted that happiness is one of the most important values guiding people's lives. Western cultures are more driven by an urge to maximise happiness and minimise sadness, they said.

Failing to appear happy is often a cause for concern. Its value is echoed through Western positive psychology and research on subjective well-being.

In non-Western cultures, in contrast, it is a less valued emotion. The ideals of harmony and conformity are often at odds with the pursuit of personal happiness and the endorsement of individualistic values, researchers said.

For instance, studies have shown that East Asians are more inclined than Westerners to think that it is inappropriate to express happiness in many social situations.

Similarly, Japanese are less inclined to savour positive emotions than Americans, said researchers.

The review points out that many cultures shy away from happiness as they hold the belief that especially extreme happiness leads to unhappiness and other negative consequences that outweigh the benefits of such positive feelings.

In both Western and non-Western cultures, some people side-step happiness because they believe that being happy makes them a worse person and that others may see them as selfish, boring or shallow.

"Many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons," researchers said.

The study was published in Springer's Journal of Happiness Studies.

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