What Makes for a Good Life? A Four-Nation Study

Abstract

How do we assess the value of our lives? What makes the life we live a good or worthy one in our own eyes? What are its aims? The answers to these questions are implicit in the often unarticulated commitments by which people define their selves, purposes, and actions. These commitments structure the moral framework that guides our everyday qualitative distinctions and positions us within a unified narrative of continuity and change. The substantive conception of a good life, we argue, presupposes but is not reducible to a set of basic values. As an initial exploration of cultural variation, Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese university students were compared on what they held to be most important for assessing the worth of their lives. The results revealed considerable commonality of content with notable differences consistent with the cultural ethos of each group.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    English is the primary language of instruction at the University of Mumbai. Accordingly, it was natural and expected for student participants there to complete the questionnaire (perceived as an ‘academic’ exercise) in English. Of course, we cannot know if the results would have differed had the questions been administered in Marathi instead of English.

  2. 2.

    There was evidence that six indicators were enough to capture the primary criteria by which participants measure the worth of their lives. Supplementary investigation revealed that, on average, participants assigned 32% of the combined importance of the six indicators to the one they judged as most important and only 7% to the one they judged as least important. The corresponding figures in the peer-reference condition were 30 and 8%. These numbers suggest that asking participants to report more than six indicators would have risked including criteria that were peripheral to their personal concerns.

  3. 3.

    Preliminary modeling confirmed that the covariates did not interact significantly with the main predictors (homogeneity of covariance) for any of the 30 categories.

  4. 4.

    Again, preliminary modeling confirmed homogeneity of covariance for all three control variables.

References

  1. Allison, P. D. (1999). Logistic regression using the SAS system: Theory and application. Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Allison, P. D. (2008). Convergence failures in logistic regression (No. 360-2008). Cary, NC: SAS Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Benedict, R. (1934). Patterns of culture. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bond, M. H., Leung, K., Au, A., Tong, K.-K., & Chemonges-Nielson, Z. (2004). Combining social axioms with values in predicting social behaviours. European Journal of Personality, 18, 177–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice (R. Nice, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press (Original work published 1980).

  8. Dewey, J. (1939). Theory of valuation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Diggle, P. J., Heagerty, P., Liang, K.-Y., & Zeger, S. L. (2002). Analysis of longitudinal data (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Elliott, A., & Lemert, C. (2009). The new individualism: The emotional costs of globalization (Revised ed. ed.). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fei, X. (1992). From the soil: The foundations of Chinese society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (Original work published 1948).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Freeman, M., & Brockmeier, J. (2001). Narrative integrity: Autobiographical identity and the meaning of the “good life”. In J. Brockmeier & D. Carbaugh (Eds.), Narrative and identity: Studies in autobiography, self, and culture (pp. 75–99). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Harvey, D. (2009). Cosmopolitanism and the geographies of freedom. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Held, D., & McGrew, A. (2007). Globalization/anti-globalization: Beyond the great divide (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Inglehart, R. (2006). Mapping global values. Comparative Sociology, 5, 115–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Leung, K., & Bond, M. H. (2004). Social axioms: A model for social beliefs in multicultural perspective. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 119–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lindeman, M., & Verkasalo, M. (2005). Measuring values with the Short Schwartz Value Survey. Journal of Personality Assessment, 85, 170–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue: A study in moral theory. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Matsumoto, D. (2002). The new Japan: Debunking seven cultural stereotypes. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. McDowell, J. (1998). Mind, value, and reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Morris, C. W. (1956). Varieties of human value. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Mullatti, L. (1995). Families in India: Beliefs and realities. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 26, 11–25.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Nussbaum, M. C. (1997). Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Rokeach, M. (1973). The nature of human values. New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 1–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Schwartz, S. H. (2006). A theory of cultural value orientations: Explication and applications. Comparative Sociology, 5, 137–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Schwartz, S. H., & Boehnke, K. (2004). Evaluating the structure of human values with confirmatory factor analysis. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 230–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Taylor, C. (1985). Human agency and language: Philosophical papers 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Twenge, J. M., & King, L. A. (2005). A good life is a personal life: Relationship fulfillment and work fulfillment in judgments of life quality. Journal of Research in Personality, 39, 336–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Westermarck, E. (1912–1917). The origin and development of the moral ideas (Vols. 1 and 2, 2nd ed.). London: Macmillan and Co., Limited.

  33. White, H. A. (1980). A heteroskedasticity-consistent covariance matrix estimator and a direct test for heteroskedasticity. Econometrica, 48, 817–838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Wierzbicka, A. (2009). What makes a good life? A cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspective. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 260–272.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a Standard Research Grant (410-2006-1127) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to the first author. We thank Mayumi Tsukamoto for her assistance with translation and Yas Nishikawa for his assistance with coding.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Romin W. Tafarodi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tafarodi, R.W., Bonn, G., Liang, H. et al. What Makes for a Good Life? A Four-Nation Study. J Happiness Stud 13, 783–800 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-011-9290-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Good Life
  • Indicator Category
  • Healthy Family
  • Miscellaneous Category
  • Relative Importance Score