Friday, 18 October 2013

The Cultural Construal of Happiness

Happiness is subjective, what constitutes happiness can be different from individual to individual. In addition - and to make it even more complex - there are also cross-cultural differences. In the past years, research approaches emerged that take greater account of indigenous factors. One example is Bhutans's Gross National Happiness Index which reflects Bhutan's cultural and religious ideas and orientations and does not measure subjective happiness only, but also collective and societal factors. This is surely a positive trend as there are still scales widely used which are invalid in some cultures since they measure European and US-American ideas of happiness.

In Japan, for instance, interdependent orientation is salient. Being much happier than others is therefore taken as disharmonious within relationships. Japanese wellbeing indicators need to include "interdependent happiness". By contrast, the Western model of happiness is defined in terms of independence.

Several studies suggest that within European and US-American cultures, positivity and negativity are seen as rather contradictory, whereas they are understood as complimentary facets of happiness in East Asian cultures. According to some findings, US-Americans believe that happiness is an enduring positive state while Japanese are likely to believe that it is a positive, transitory moment with negative consequences.

Leaping for joy? "Starting in the early 1950s I asked every famous or important person I photographed to jump for me. I was motivated by a genuine curiosity. After all, life has taught us to control and disguise our facial expressions, but it has not taught us to control our jumps. I wanted to see famous people reveal in a jump their ambition or their lack of it, their self-importance or their insecurity, and many other traits." Philip Halsman

Uchida, Y. & Ogihara, Y. (2012) Personal or Interpersonal Construal of Happiness: A Cultural Psychological Perspective. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(4), 354-369, photos via


  1. You really do have a thing for excellent photographs, don't you? :-)

  2. :-) ... this post spreads some serious well.

  3. Abbie Winterburn18 October 2013 at 09:27

    Such a joy looking at these images!

  4. Thank you for this visual ride!

  5. Halsman, what a great photographer he was! I came across an article about Halsberg at Visual News: "Before the age of Photoshop, there was Philippe Halsman." :-)

    Did you know that he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for patricide in Austria? The circumstances were never completely clarified. Through the support of Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, Halsman was released in 1931, under the condition that he leave Austria for good, never to return.


    1. I just looked it up on VN, Hitchcock could have made a mystery-in-the-alps with that story.

    2. Gosh, I had never heard of that rather "extraordinary" life event (which does sound like Hitchcock, indeed)... even though Austria, Einstein and Mann were involved. Many thanks for sharing that information with us, it is really interesting. Thank you Kenneth, thank you Macy.