Are Western Cultures Happier than Eastern Cultures?

According to a new study, individuals from Western cultures are more willing to express positive emotions than those from Eastern cultures. “All around the world, people should generally want to feel positive emotions and avoid feeling negative emotions,” said Yuri Miyamoto of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Depending on individuals and situations, people sometimes try to down-regulate positive emotions. For example, when experiencing positive emotions, people low in self-esteem tend to become anxious and dampen their positive emotions compared with people high in self-esteem.” Miyamoto believes that cultural differences influence how people regulate their response to positive emotions. “In Western culture, the dominant cultural script is to maximize positive emotions and minimize negative emotions,” said Miyamoto. “Although positive emotions are generally considered to be more desirable and appropriate than negative emotions are across cultures, positive emotions are considered to be more desirable in Western cultures than in Eastern cultures, whereas negative emotions are considered to be more undesirable in Western cultures than in Eastern cultures.”

In an effort to provide support for this theory, Miyamoto interviewed East Asian and European American undergraduates after they recalled specific positive memories. He found that all of the participants wanted to experience and savor their positive emotions, but the East Asian participants were more prone to minimize the impact of the positive memory. Additionally, Miyamoto found that the East Asian students continued to experience less positive emotions than the European Americans even a full day after the event. “Overall, these results suggest that a dialectical cultural script not only underlies cultural differences in hedonic emotion regulation but also has consequences on subsequent emotional experiences.”  Miyamoto said, “This might have practical implications, for instance, for therapists.” He added, “Therapists may want to be aware that a lack of hedonic emotion regulation might not be necessarily indicative of a mental health problem for Asians. Instead, helping Asians strive to achieve a more ‘middle way’ in their emotion regulation strategies might lead to optimal mental health.”

Reference:
Miyamoto, Yuri, and Xiaoming Ma. “Dampening or Savoring Positive Emotions: A Dialectical Cultural Script Guides Emotion Regulation.” Emotion 11.6 (2011): 1346-347. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gavin McCaig

    Gavin McCaig

    December 22nd, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Eastern cultures, especially Japan, are very demanding of their citizens to conform axiomatically to a level that would be thought of as oppressive in the West. Those that don’t are often shunned or looked down upon because they don’t conform to society.

  • Mel Kennedy

    Mel Kennedy

    December 22nd, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    I think we Western cultures could take a leaf out of our Oriental cousins’ books. We spent our lives teaching our children anything was possible when you apply diligence and they turned that positive message on its head, ignoring the effort part of it.

    More and more I see that Western children are turning into generation after generation of spoiled, disrespectful brats. This behavior is deplorable and a very sad reflection of the environment we’re raising them in. We used to be so proud of our kids! Now they are a global embarrassment and certainly no ambassadors for our country when abroad.

  • robin

    robin

    December 22nd, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    I have always thought that people from the Eastern side of the world are more uptight and less willing to be who they want to be , maybe out of fear of disappointing others in the family. That is something of a cultural thing for them, whereas here in the West the attitude seems to be a little more laidback and giving than those in other parts of the world. I know that Asia has become very successful but at what cost to the happiness of those who are raised there?

  • n.b.

    n.b.

    December 23rd, 2011 at 2:00 AM

    Eastern cultures have higher expectations of their children too, Gavin, in terms of achievement and guiding principles. I’m Chinese. I could inform my father that I was #1 in my school, and he would look at me and ask why I wasn’t #1 in the entire country.

    It’s been ingrained in our cultural upbringing for literally thousands of years to work hard and strive for success. Failure is not an option. Respect for our peers and elders is drilled into us too as soon as we are old enough to understand the concept. I think being a stricter parent and living under one makes for a happier child.

  • Tabitha Townesend

    Tabitha Townesend

    December 23rd, 2011 at 2:19 AM

    If we Westerners could at the very least adopt the more Zen-like qualities of Eastern Cultures, the world would be a happier place. We are too stressed and too much in a rush.

  • Madeline

    Madeline

    December 24th, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    It isnt always that eastern cultures promote lower happiness.Its more about how things are handled.I would imagine people are not really encouraged to be out and about to display their happiness like we would here.There is that constraint in most eastern societies,not really open about things at times as well.

  • simone

    simone

    December 26th, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Maybe it is just the different things in life that would appear to make the Westerners happier. We are always looking for the things that are measureable, like how much money do we have and how does our house compare to others etc. maybe the people who live in the Eastern part of the world identify happiness with other aspects of life, ones that are not quite so visible yet just as important to our happiness and well being.

  • Abc Cleo

    Abc Cleo

    December 6th, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    This article is very interesting. First of all, I think it would be a good idea to identify what “West” and “East” mean. Sometimes, west refers only to North America, so in that case, yes, we are stressed and in a rush, but what about Europe? People are less rushed, live a slower paced life, and in my opinion, they turn out the happiest and most content, and most “Zen.” If East is referring to Asia in this article, I would say that the spiritual factor of Asian societies is dying as there is such a big emphasis on materialism. Therefore, the person who says that a stricter parent makes for a happier child, he or she means only materialistically. There is no evidence to back that Asian children are the happiest. In fact, the Dutch children are the happiest, oh and the Swedish and Finnish too. They live in laid back environments where no matter what they get in school, they feel accepted. Besides, if parents cannot accept failure, neither can the kid and that’s not the way to approach life.

    Whoever said we are raising a generation of spoiled children should look at China where today, even White American host families are refusing to host Chinese students who expect everything and every chore to be done for them.

    Western cultures are definitely more open minded as well. In my opinion, the West has started all this technology stuff, but because in our education, we have emphasis on communication and the soft skills, true we may fall behind in terms of math and science but we have the ability to save humanity while Asian cultures get fed up with the technology and test taking and death from overwork and life just becomes more miserable despite the developments. I would live in Denmark over Japan.

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