How Universal Is Happiness?

Ruut Veenhoven

in International Differences in Well-Being

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780199732739
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199776887 | DOI:
How Universal Is Happiness?

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There is a longstanding discussion on whether happiness is culturally relative or not. The following questions are addressed in that context: (1) Do we all assess how much we like our life? (2) Do we appraise our life on the same grounds? (3) Are the conditions for happiness similar for all of us? (4) Are the consequences of happiness similar in all cultures? (5) Do we all seek happiness? (6) Do we seek happiness in similar ways? (7) Do we enjoy life about equally much? The available data suggest that all humans tend to assess how much they like their life. The evaluation draws on affective experience, which is linked to gratification of universal human needs and on cognitive comparison which is framed by cultural standards of the good life. The overall appraisal seems to depend more on the former, than on the latter source of information. Conditions for happiness appear to be quite similar across the world and so are the consequences of enjoying life or not. There is more cultural variation in the valuation of happiness and in beliefs about conditions for happiness. The greatest variation is found in how happy people are.

Keywords: happiness; life satisfaction; cultural relativism; human nature; utilitarianism

Chapter.  8600 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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