Happiness around the World: A Combined Etic-Emic Approach across 63 Countries

Gwendolyn GARDINER*, Daniel I. LEE, Erica BARANSKI, David C FUNDER, International Situation Project, Wai Lan Victoria YEUNG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


What does it mean to be happy? The vast majority of cross-cultural studies on happiness have employed a Western-origin, or “WEIRD” measure of happiness that conceptualizes it as a self-centered (or “independent”), high-arousal emotion. However, research from Eastern cultures, particularly Japan, conceptualizes happiness as including an interpersonal aspect emphasizing harmony and connectedness to others. Following a combined emic-etic approach (Cheung, van de Vijver & Leong, 2011), we assessed the cross-cultural applicability of a measure of independent happiness developed in the US (Subjective Happiness Scale; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999) and a measure of interdependent happiness developed in Japan (Interdependent Happiness Scale; Hitokoto & Uchida, 2014), with data from 63 countries representing 7 sociocultural regions. Results indicate that the schema of independent happiness was more coherent in more WEIRD countries. In contrast, the coherence of interdependent happiness was unrelated to a country’s “WEIRD-ness.” Reliabilities of both happiness measures were lowest in African and Middle Eastern countries, suggesting these two conceptualizations of happiness may not be globally comprehensive. Overall, while the two measures had many similar correlates and properties, the self-focused concept of independent happiness is “WEIRD-er” than interdependent happiness, suggesting cross-cultural researchers should attend to both conceptualizations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0242718
Pages (from-to)e0242718
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Early online date9 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

The research was supported by the US National Science Foundation under Grant BCS1528131 for the primary authors. Data gathering in the Czech Republic was supported by grant 17-14387S by the Czech Science Foundation and by institutional research funding RVO: 68081740 from the Institute of Psychology, Czech Academy of Sciences. Data gathering in Chile was partly supported by the Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (FONDAP 15130009) and Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Research (CIIR) (FONDAP 15110006).


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