Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 717–735 | Cite as

Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness

Review article

Abstract

A common view in contemporary Western culture is that personal happiness is one of the most important values in life. For example, in American culture it is believed that failing to appear happy is cause for concern. These cultural notions are also echoed in contemporary Western psychology (including positive psychology and much of the research on subjective well-being). However, some important (often culturally-based) facts about happiness have tended to be overlooked in the psychological research on the topic. One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value. In fact, some individuals across cultures are averse to various kinds of happiness for several different reasons. This article presents the first review of the concept of aversion to happiness. Implications of the outcomes are discussed, as are directions for further research.

Keywords

Aversion to happiness Culture  Subjective well-being Happiness Western psychology Positive psychology Fear of happiness 

References

  1. Ahmed, S. (2007). Multiculturalism and the promise of happiness. New Formations, 63, 121–137.Google Scholar
  2. Ahuvia, A. (2001). Well-being in cultures of choice: A cross-cultural perspective. American Psychologist, 56(1), 77–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arieti, S., & Bemporad, J. (1980). Severe and mild depression: The psychotherapeutic approach. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ben-Shahar, T. (2002). The question of happiness: On finding meaning, pleasure, and the ultimate currency. New York: Writers Club Press.Google Scholar
  6. Berg, C. Z., Shapiro, N., Chambless, D. L., & Ahrens, A. H. (1998). Are emotions frightening? II: An analogue study of fear of emotion, interpersonal conflict, and panic onset1. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36(1), 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., Segall, M. H., & Dasen, P. R. (1992). Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Binkley, S. (2011). Happiness, positive psychology and the program of neoliberal governmentality. Subjectivity, 4(4), 371–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bond, M. H., Leung, K., Au, A., Tong, K-. K., de Carrasquel, S. R., Murakami, F., et al. (2004). Culture-level dimensions of social axioms and their correlates across 41 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35(5), 548–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braithwaite, V. A., & Law, H. (1985). Structure of human values: Testing the adequacy of the Rokeach Value Survey. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(1), 250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Braun, S. (2000). The science of happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of mood. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  12. Bruckner, P. (2012). The pursuit of happiness. In S. Vandamme (Ed.), Geluk: Drang of dwang? (pp. 59–66). Gent: Academia Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Chen, Y. H. (2006). The way of nature as a healing power. In T. P. Wong & C. J. Wong (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping (pp. 91–103). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chittick, W. C. (2005). Weeping in classical sufism. In K. C. Patton & J. S. Hawley (Eds.), Holy tears: Weeping in the religious imagination (pp. 132–144). New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Christopher, J. C. (1999). Situating psychological well-being: Exploring the cultural roots of its theory and research. Journal of Counseling and Development, 77, 141–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Christopher, J. C., & Hickinbottom, S. (2008). Positive psychology, ethnocentrism, and the disguised ideology of individualism. Theory and Psychology, 18(5), 563–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Christopher, J. C., & Smith, A. (2006). A hermeneutic approach to culture and psychotherapy. In R. Moody & S. Palmer (Eds.), Race, culture and psychotherapy: Critical perspective in multicultural practice (pp. 265–280). New York: Brunner/Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Clinton, R. (1952). Thomas Hooker. The New England Quarterly, 25(4), 459–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. D’Andrade, R. G. (1984). Culture meaning systems. In R. A. Shweder & R. A. Levine (Eds.), Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion (pp. 88–119). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. De Vos, M. (2012). The unbearable lightness of happiness policy. In P. Booth (Ed.), … and the pursuit of happiness (pp. 181–204). London: The Institute of Economic Affairs.Google Scholar
  22. Diener, E., Lucas, R., Schimmack, U., & Helliwell, J. (2009). Well-being for public policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: Emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 403–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Edmonds, E. P. (1946). Treatment of a severe chronic phobic neurosis in general practice. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 20(4), 393–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Eid, M., & Diener, E. (2001). Norms for experiencing emotions in different cultures: Inter-and intranational differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(5), 869–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ewen, S. (1976). Captains of consciousness. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  28. Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 24, 237–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Freedman, J. (1978). Happy people: What happiness is, who has it, and why. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  30. Frey, B. S. (2008). Happiness: A revolution in economics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics: How the economy and institutions affect human well-being. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Gibbons, L., Chotai, S., Duarte, J., & Matos, M. (2012). Fears of compassion and happiness in relation to alexithymia, mindfulness, and self-criticism. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 85(4), 374–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Glück, L. (1996). Fear of happiness. Michigan Quarterly Review, XXXV(4), 579–585.Google Scholar
  34. Goetz, J. L., Spencer-Rodgers, J., & Peng, K. (2008). Dialectical emotions: How cultural epistemologies influence the experience and regulation of emotional complexity. In R. M. Sorrentino & S. Yamaguchi (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition across cultures (pp. 517–538). Amsterdam: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Good, M. J., & Good, B. J. (1988). Ritual, the state, and the transformation of emotional discourse in Iranian society. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 12(1), 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A dark side of happiness? How, when, and why happiness is not always good. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(3), 222–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Haybron, D. M. (2008). Philosophy and the science of subjective well-being. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), the science of subjective well-being (pp. 17–43). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  38. Held, B. S. (2002). The tyranny of the positive attitude in America: Observation and speculation. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(9), 965–991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2012). World happiness report. Commissioned for the United Nations and published by the Earth Institute. http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/Sachs%20Writing/2012/World%20Happiness%20Report.pdf.
  40. Ho, D. Y. F. (1995). Selfhood and identity in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism: Contrasts with the West. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 25(2), 115–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ho, D. Y. F. (2000). Dialectical thinking: Neither Eastern nor Western. American Psychologist, 55(9), 1064–1065.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hochschild, J. L. (1996). Facing up to the American dream: Race, class, and the soul of the nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Holden, R. (2009). Be happy: Release the power of happiness in you. New York City: Hay House Inc.Google Scholar
  44. Inglehart, R., & Baker, W. E. (2000). Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review, 65(1), 19–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ji, L. J., Nisbett, R. E., & Su, Y. (2001). Culture, change, and prediction. Psychological Science, 12(6), 450–456. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Joshanloo, M. (2013a). Eastern conceptualizations of happiness: Fundamental differences with western views. Journal of Happiness Studies. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-013-9431-1.
  47. Joshanloo, M. (2013b). The influence of fear of happiness beliefs on responses to the satisfaction with life scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(5), 647–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Joshanloo, M. (2013c). A comparison of western and Islamic conceptions of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(6), 1857–1874.Google Scholar
  49. Joshanloo, M., & Ghaedi, G. (2009). Value priorities as predictors of hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(4), 294–298. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.03.016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Joshanloo, M., Lepshokova, Z. K., Panyusheva, T., Natalia, A., Poon, W. C., et al. (2013). Cross-cultural validation of the fear of happiness scale across 14 national groups. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. doi:10.1177/0022022113505357.
  51. Kitayama, S., Markus, H. R., Matsumoto, H., & Norasakkunkit, V. (1997). Individual and collective processes in the construction of the self: Self-enhancement in the United States and self-criticism in Japan. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1245–1267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kitayama, S., Mesquita, B., & Karasawa, M. (2006). Cultural affordances and emotional experience: Socially engaging and disengaging emotions in Japan and the United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 890–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Koo, J., & Suh, E. (2007). Is happiness a zero-sum game? Belief in fixed amount of happiness (BIFAH) and subjective well-being. Korean Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 21(4), 1–19.Google Scholar
  54. Kupperman, J. (2006). Six myths about the good life: Thinking about what has value. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  55. Lao Tse. (2008). Tao Te Ching: Or the Tao and its characteristics (James Legge, Trans.). The Floating Press. http://www.floatingpress.com.
  56. Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  57. Leu, J., Mesquita, B., Ellsworth, P. C., ZhiYong, Z., Huijuan, Y., Buchtel, E., et al. (2010). Situational differences in dialectical emotions: Boundary conditions in a cultural comparison of North Americans and East Asians. Cognition and Emotion, 24(3), 419–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Locke, J. (1991). An essay concerning human understanding. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  59. Lu, L. (2001). Understanding happiness: A look into the Chinese folk psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2(4), 407–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lu, L. (2006). “Cultural Fit”: individual and societal discrepancies in values, beliefs, and subjective well-being. The Journal of Social Psychology, 146(2), 203–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lu, L., & Gilmour, R. (2004). Culture and conceptions of happiness: Individual oriented and social oriented SWB. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5(3), 269–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lu, L., & Gilmour, R. (2006). Individual-oriented and socially oriented cultural conceptions of subjective well-being: Conceptual analysis and scale development. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 9, 36–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Lucas, R. E., & Diener, E. (2008). Subjective well-being. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 471–484). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  64. Lutz, C. (1987). Goals, events, and understanding in Ifaluk emotion theory. In N. Quinn & D. Holland (Eds.), Cultural models in language and thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Lyubomirsky, S. (2000). In the pursuit of happiness: Comparing the U.S. and Russia. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, Atlanta, Georgia. (Symposium titled “Happiness, Hope, Optimism and Maturity: Social Psychological Approaches to Human Strengths.”).Google Scholar
  66. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Markus, H. R., & Hamedani, M. G. (2007). Sociocultural psychology: The dynamic interdependence among self systems and social systems. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of cultural psychology (pp. 3–39). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  68. Martin, M. W. (2008). Paradoxes of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2), 171–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Matsumoto, D. (2001). Culture and emotion. In D. Matsumoto (Ed.), The handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 171–194). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Melka, S. E., Lancaster, S. L., Bryant, A. R., Rodriguez, B. F., & Weston, R. (2011). An exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis of the Affective Control Scale in an undergraduate sample. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 33, 501–513.Google Scholar
  71. Menon, U. (2012). Hinduism, happiness and wellbeing: A case study of adulthood in an Oriya Hindu Temple Town. In H. Selin & G. Davey (Eds.), Happiness across cultures (Vol. 6, pp. 417–434). The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Mesquita, B., & Albert, D. (2007). The cultural regulation of emotions. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), The handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 486–503). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  73. Minami, H. (1971). Psychology of the Japanese people. Tokyo: University of Tokyo press.Google Scholar
  74. Miyamoto, Y., & Ma, X. (2011). Dampening or savoring positive emotions: A dialectical cultural script guides emotion regulation. Emotion, 11(6), 1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Miyamoto, Y., Uchida, Y., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2010). Culture and mixed emotions: Co-occurrence of positive and negative emotions in Japan and the United States. Emotion, 10(3), 404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Morris, S. (2012). The science of happiness: A cross-cultural perspective. In H. Selin & G. Davey (Eds.), Happiness across cultures (Vol. 6, pp. 435–450). Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Moshiri Tafreshi, M. (2009). Evil eye: About contemporary society. Chista, 259, 108–116. [in Persian].Google Scholar
  78. Myers, D. G. (1993). The pursuit of happiness: Discovering the pathway to fulfilment, well-being, and enduring personal joy. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  79. Peng, K., Spencer-Rodgers, J., & Nian, Z. (2006). Naïve dialecticism and the tao of Chinese thought indigenous and cultural psychology. In U. Kim, K.-S. Yang, & K-. K. Hwang (Eds.), Indigenous and cultural psychology: Understanding people in context (pp. 247–262). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Pflug, J. (2009). Folk theories of happiness: A cross-cultural comparison of conceptions of happiness in Germany and South Africa. Social Indicators Research, 92(3), 551–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Quoidbach, J., Berry, E. V., Hansenne, M., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(5), 368–373. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.048.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Rehberg, K. S. (2000). The fear of happiness anthropological motives. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1(4), 479–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ricard, M. (2011). The Dalai Lama: Happiness from within. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1(2), 274–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Richardson, F. C. (2012). On psychology and virtue ethics. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 32(1), 24–34. doi:10.1037/a0026058.Google Scholar
  85. Richardson, F. C., & Guignon, C. B. (2008). Positive psychology and philosophy of social science. Theory and Psychology, 18(5), 605–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Safdar, S., Friedlmeier, W., Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., Kwantes, C. T., Kakai, H., et al. (2009). Variations of emotional display rules within and across cultures: A comparison between Canada, USA, and Japan. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue Canadienne des Sciences du Comportement, 41(1), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sagiv, L., Roccas, S., & Hazan, O. (2004). Value pathways to well-being: Healthy values, valued goal attainment, and environmental congruence. In A. Linley & J. Stephen (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  88. Schumaker, J. F. (2006). In search of happiness: Understanding an endangered state of mind. Auckland: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  89. Seligman, M. E. P. (1998). President’s column: What is the good life? APA Monitor, 29(10), 1–2.Google Scholar
  90. Shantideva. (1997). A guide to the bodhisattva way of life (V. A. Wallace & B. A. Wallace, Trans.). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.Google Scholar
  91. Sicherman, B. (1976). The paradox of prudence: Mental health in the gilded age. The Journal of American History, 62(4), 890–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. California: Sage Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  93. Suh, E. M. (2000). Self: The hyphen between culture and subjective well-being. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (pp. 63–86). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  94. Tatarkiewicz, W. (1976). Analysis of happiness. Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Thin, N. (2012). Counting and recounting happiness and culture: On happiness surveys and prudential ethnobiography. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(4), 313–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Triandis, H. C. (2000). Cultural syndromes and subjective well-being. In E. F. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Subjective well-being across cultures (pp. 87–112). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  97. Triandis, H. C., Bontempo, R., Leung, K., & Hui, C. H. (1990). A method for determining cultural, demographic, and personal constructs. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 21(3), 302–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Tsai, J. L. (2007). Ideal affect: Cultural causes and behavioral consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 242–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Tsai, J. L., Knutson, B., & Fung, H. H. (2006). Cultural variation in affect valuation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 288–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Tsai, J. L., Miao, F. F., & Seppala, E. (2007). Good feelings in Christianity and Buddhism: Religious differences in ideal affect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(3), 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Uchida, Y., & Kitayama, S. (2009). Happiness and unhappiness in east and west: Themes and variations. Emotion, 9(4), 441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Uchida, Y., Norasakkunkit, V., & Kitayama, S. (2004). Cultural constructions of happiness: Theory and emprical evidence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5(3), 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: Building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. American Psychologist, 61(7), 690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Weijers, D. (2011). Hedonism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/hedonism/.
  105. Wierzbicka, A. (1994). Emotion, language, and cultural scripts. In S. Kitayama & H. R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence (pp. 133–196). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Wilson, E. G. (2008). Against happiness: In praise of melancholy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  107. Wood, J. V., Heimpel, S. A., & Michela, J. L. (2003). Savoring versus dampening: Self-esteem differences in regulating positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 566–580. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.3.566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Zevnik, L. (2010). Towards a new perspective in cultural studies: Emotional and spiritual problems and happiness in contemporary Western societies. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13(4), 391–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Philosophy ProgrammeVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations