Are you happy? Well don’t try to be happier; you might become less happy. That is the gist of a multi-cultural study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study by University of Virginia psychology professor Shigehiro Oishi and colleagues at three other institutions found that, on average, European-Americans claim to be happy in general—more happy than Asian-Americans or Koreans or Japanese—but are more easily made less happy by negative events, and recover at a slower rate from negative events, than their counterparts in Asia or with an Asian ancestry. On the other hand, Koreans, Japanese, and to a lesser extent, Asian-Americans, are less happy in general, but recover their emotional equilibrium more readily after a setback than European-Americans.
Oishi, a social psychologist who grew up in Japan and then moved to the United States at 23, is interested in comparing how people from East Asia and the United States respond to the daily events of life.
He and his colleagues surveyed more than 350 college students in Japan, Korea and the United States over a three-week period. The students recorded daily their general state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with life, as well as the number of positive and negative events they had during the course of each day.
The researchers found that the European-Americans needed nearly two positive events (such as getting complimented or getting an A) to return to their normal level of happiness after each negative event, such as getting a parking ticket or a lower grade than expected. The Koreans, Japanese and Asian-Americans generally needed only one positive event to make up for each negative event.
Oishi said that people who become accustomed to numerous positive or happy events in their life are more likely to take a harder fall than people who have learned to accept the bad with the good. And because negative events have such a strong effect when occurring in the midst of numerous positive events, people find it difficult to be extremely happy. They reach a point of diminishing returns.
[Editors Note: The full text of “The dynamics of daily events and well-being across cultures: When less is more,” by Oishi, Shigehiro; Diener, Ed; Choi, Dong-Won; Kim-Prieto, Chu; and Choi, Incheol can be purchased here.]
The authors examined cultural and individual differences in the relation between daily events and daily satisfaction. In a preliminary study, they established cross-cultural equivalence of 50 daily events. In the main study, participants in the United States, Korea, and Japan completed daily surveys on the 50 events and daily satisfaction for 21 days. The multilevel random coefficient model analyses showed that (a) the within-person association between positive events and daily satisfaction was significantly stronger among Asian American, Korean, and Japanese participants than among European American participants and (b) the within-person association between positive events and daily satisfaction was significantly weaker among individuals high in global life satisfaction than among those low in global life satisfaction. The findings demonstrate a weaker effect of positive events on daily well-being among individuals and cultures high in global well-being.