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Self-Related and Other-Related Pathways to Subjective Well-Being in Japan and the United States

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Abstract

Cross-cultural comparisons demonstrate that subjective well-being (SWB) is rated lower among East Asian than Western individuals. Regardless of such cultural differences, however, factors that predict SWB among people from various cultures may be similar. In the current study we demonstrate the universality of two potential pathways to SWB: those which are more self-related (e.g., independent self-construal; personal expression of emotions), and those which are more other-related (e.g., interdependent self-construal; giving social support to others). Using the MIDUS II and the MIDJA datasets, we find that even though American older adults (N = 1,248) report higher levels of SWB, emotional expression, and social support provision than their Japanese counterparts (N = 1,010), there are similar influences of both self and other-related pathways on SWB. Specifically, emotional expression and social support provision contribute equally to SWB in both groups. Moreover, structural equation models revealed that in both cultural groups, independent self-construal has a direct positive effect on SWB, but also indirectly predicts SWB via increased emotional expression and giving support to others. Interdependent self-construal also has a positive effect on SWB. However, it indirectly has both a positive effect (through giving more support to others) and a negative effect (through less emotional expression) on SWB. These findings were nearly identical across cultures, except that Americans showed a stronger positive relationship between independent self-construal and emotional expression, and Japanese showed a stronger positive relation between independence and giving social support. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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Notes

  1. Two other items: “How much do you really care about your [friends/spouse/partner]?” and “How much do you understand the way your [friends/spouse/partner] feel about things?” were included in the Support Given to Friends Scale and the Support Given to Spouse/Partner Scale in MIDUS II. These two items were intended to be included in the Support Given to Family Scale as well, but they were accidentally dropped during the finalizing process of the MIDUS-II questionnaire. This omission was accidently carried forward to MIDJA. Therefore, in the present study, only the two items that are common across the three domains (friends, family, and spouse/partner) were used.

  2. Adding independent and interdependent self-construal as covariates in the ANCOVAs, shows that country remains a significant main effect, but that both self-construals have a significant additional effect as well.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge grants from the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies and Wake Forest University, The Character Project, via the John Templeton Foundation.

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Correspondence to Sara H. Konrath.

Appendices

Appendix: Subjective Well-Being

Instructions: The next questions are about your evaluations of your life overall. Please circle the number that corresponds to how much you agree or disagree with the following.

  1. 1.

    Compared to most of my peers, I consider myself to be more happy.

  2. 2.

    In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

  3. 3.

    The conditions of my life are excellent.

  4. 4.

    I am satisfied with my life.

  5. 5.

    So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

  6. 6.

    If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

  7. 7.

    I have so much in life to be thankful for.

  8. 8.

    I am grateful to a wide variety of people.

Coding scheme: 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Slightly Disagree; 4 = Neutral; 5 = Slightly Agree; 6 = Agree; 7 = Strongly Agree.

Item parceling: Indicator 1 = items 1, 4, and 7; Indicator 2 = items 2, 5, and 8; Indicator 3 = items 2 and 6. For each indicator, data must be available for at least one item; if data for more than one items were available, the mean of the available items was used.

Sources:

  • Item 1

  • Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L. (1997). Hedonic consequences of social comparison: A contrast of happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(6), 1141–1157.

  • Items 2–6

  • Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Psychological Assessment, 5(2), 164–172.

  • Items 7–8

  • McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112–127.

Self-Construal

Instructions: “The following questions are about the ways you generally interact with others, including your sense of obligation towards others. Please circle the number that corresponds to how much you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

2.1 Independence Subscale

  1. 1.

    I’d rather say “NO” directly, than risk being misunderstood.

  2. 2.

    Speaking up is not a problem for me.

  3. 3.

    Having a lively imagination is important to me.

  4. 4.

    I am comfortable with being singled out for praise or rewards.

  5. 5.

    I am the same person at home that I am at work or in other social settings.

  6. 6.

    I prefer to be direct and forthright when dealing with people I’ve just met.

  7. 7.

    It is important to have my own ideas.

Coding scheme: 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Slightly Disagree; 4 = Neutral; 5 = Slightly Agree; 6 = Agree; 7 = Strongly Agree.

Item parceling: Indicator 1 = items 1 and 4; Indicator 2 = items 2 and 5; and Indicator 3 = items 3, 6, and 7. For each indicator, data must be available for at least one item; if data for one item or less was missing, the mean of the available items was used.

2.2 Interdependence Subscale

  1. 1.

    I have respect for the authority figures with whom I interact.

  2. 2.

    It is important for me to maintain harmony or smooth relationships with my group.

  3. 3.

    I respect people who are modest about themselves.

  4. 4.

    I will sacrifice my self-interest for the benefit of the group I am in.

  5. 5.

    I should take into consideration others’ advice when making work or family plans.

  6. 6.

    It is important to me to respect decisions made by the group.

  7. 7.

    I will stay in a group if they need me, even when I’m not happy with the group.

  8. 8.

    If people in my family fail, I feel responsible.

  9. 9.

    Even when I strongly disagree with group members, I avoid an argument.

  10. 10.

    It is important to listen to others’ opinions.

Coding scheme: 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Slightly Disagree; 4 = Neutral; 5 = Slightly Agree; 6 = Agree; 7 = Strongly Agree.

Item parceling: Indicator 1 = items 1, 4, 7, and 10; Indicator 2 = items 2, 5, and 8; Indicator 3 = items 3, 6, and 9. For each indicator, data must be available for at least one item; if data for more than one items were available, the mean of the available items was used.

Source:

  • Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 580–591.

Emotional Expression

  1. 1.

    I am angrier than I’m willing to admit. (R)

  2. 2.

    I boil inside, but don’t show it. (R)

  3. 3.

    I keep things in. (R)

  4. 4.

    I am irritated more than others are aware. (R)

  5. 5.

    I express my anger.

  6. 6.

    If someone annoys me I tell them how I feel.

  7. 7.

    I keep my emotions to myself. (R)

  8. 8.

    When I am feeling negative emotions (such as sadness or anger), I make sure not to express them. (R)

Coding scheme (items 1–6): 1 = Almost never; 2 = Sometimes; 3 = Often; 4 = Almost Always. “R” indicates item was reverse coded.

Coding scheme (items 7–8): 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Slightly Disagree; 4 = Neutral; 5 = Slightly Agree; 6 = Agree; 7 = Strongly Agree.

Item parceling: Indicator 1 = z scores of items 1 and 5; Indicator 2 = z scores of items 2 and 7; Indicator 3 = z scores of items 3 and 6; Indicator 4 = z scores of items 4 and 8. For each indicator, data must be available for at least one item; if data for more than one items were available, the mean of the available items was used.

Sources:

  • Items 1–6

  • Spielberger, C. D. (1996). State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

  • Items 7–8

  • Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 348–362.

Giving Support to Others

4.1 Support Given to Friends

  1. 1.

    How much can your friends rely on you for help if they have a serious problem?

  2. 2.

    How much can your friends open up to you if they need to talk about their worries?

4.2 Support Given to Family

  1. 1.

    How much can your family (not including your spouse or partner) rely on you for help if they have a serious problem?

  2. 2.

    How much can your family open up to you if they need to talk about their worries?

4.3 Support Given to Spouse/Partner

  1. 1.

    How much can your spouse/partner rely on you for help if he/she has a serious problem?

  2. 2.

    How much can your spouse/partner open up to you if he/she need to talk about their worries?

Coding scheme: 1 = A Lot; 2 = Some; 3 = A Little; 4 = Not At All. All items were reverse coded.

Item parceling: Indicator 1 = items 1, 3, and 5; Indicator 2 = items 2, 4, and 6. For each indicator, data must be available for at least one item; if data for more than one items were available, the mean of the available items was used.

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Novin, S., Tso, I.F. & Konrath, S.H. Self-Related and Other-Related Pathways to Subjective Well-Being in Japan and the United States. J Happiness Stud 15, 995–1014 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9460-9

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