WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2020 — East or West, where you live can affect how you define happiness, a new study suggests.
Most studies of happiness focus on the Western world’s concept that happiness is associated with independence, but in the East, happiness is linked to interdependence with others, say researchers from the University of California, Riverside.
“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,” said study author Gwen Gardiner, a researcher on the university’s International Situations Project.
“The Eastern ideologies of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism emphasize the interconnectedness of everyone and everything, prioritizing harmony and balance over individual achievement,” she noted in a university news release.
In this study, the investigators assessed the effectiveness of two measures of happiness among more than 15,000 college-age people in 63 countries.
The measures were the Subjective Happiness Scale, developed in the United States, and the Interdependent Happiness scale, which was developed in Japan and more closely examines factors such as “interpersonal harmony” and “equality of accomplishment with peers.”
The Subjective Happiness Scale proved most reliable at measuring happiness in Western European countries such as Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Countries with greater development, less population growth, and in colder climates were more likely to score similarly on this measure.
However, that Western measure wasn’t as effective at determining happiness in Eastern countries such as China, Japan and Vietnam, and also performed poorly in African countries.
The Interdependent Happiness scale was most reliable in Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea, and generally less reliable in Western countries.
Both measures were highly reliable in the United States and Japan.
“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,” Gardiner said. “But in this case, they were much more similar to each other.”
Both measures did not perform well in countries without Christian Protestant or Buddhist traditions, including African and Middle Eastern countries, according to the findings.
The study was published Dec. 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.
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