A recent review has found ideas on happiness vary greatly according to culture.
Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand say that while happiness is the ultimate goal in some cultures, others believe it attracts negative consequences. Claimed to be the first study to look at the concept of happiness "aversion" and why some cultures react so differently to feelings of satisfaction and well-being, findings
were published in Springer's Journal of Happiness Studies.
"One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value," explain Joshanloo and Weijers in their review. They note that while happiness is often valued in Western cultures, such aversion does exist in the
Western world, as well as in non-western cultures. Being raised in a culture that does not regard happiness as important could encourage people to avoid it.
In Western cultures, happiness is an essential goal of people's lives, and appearing unhappy is often cause for great concern.
Yet in certain non-western cultures, happiness is not considered an important emotion. Ideas of harmony and conformity often clash with the "pursuit" of happiness and personal goals. Studies have found East Asians are more likely than Westerners to view public expressions of happiness as "inappropriate." The Japanese, for example, are less likely to "savour" positive emotions than Americans.
This research points out that many cultures eschew happiness, believing it might result in extreme unhappiness and other negative consequences. Some in both Western and non-western cultures believe happiness makes a person boring, selfish or shallow. Inhabitants of Iran and surrounding countries are often concerned their peers, the "evil eye" or other supernatural entities will become jealous of their happiness and "severe consequences" might result.
"Many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons," the researchers conclude. "Some of the beliefs about the negative consequences of happiness seem to be exaggerations, often spurred by superstition or timeless advice on how to enjoy a pleasant or prosperous life. However, considering the inevitable individual differences in regards to even dominant cultural trends, no culture can be expected to unanimously hold any of these beliefs."
Definitions of happiness can change as we age, however. A February 2014 study found what makes us happy changes as we get older, with older people finding happiness in even the most ordinary of experiences. Younger people, in comparison, tend to base happiness on extraordinary experiences, such as those related to travel or marriage.
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