Culture shapes whether the pursuit of happiness predicts higher or lower well-being

Brett Q. Ford*, Julia O. Dmitrieva, Daniel Heller, Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, Igor Grossmann, Maya Tamir, Yukiko Uchida, Birgit Koopmann-Holm, Victoria A. Floerke, Meike Uhrig, Tatiana Bokhan, Iris B. Mauss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Pursuing happiness can paradoxically impair well-being. Here, the authors propose the potential downsides to pursuing happiness may be specific to individualistic cultures. In collectivistic (vs. individualistic)cultures, pursuing happiness may be more successful because happiness is viewed-and thus pursued-in relatively socially engaged ways. In 4 geographical regions that vary in level of collectivism (United States, Germany, Russia, East Asia), we assessed participants' well-being, motivation to pursue happiness, and to what extent they pursued happiness in socially engaged ways. Motivation to pursue happiness predicted lower well-being in the United States, did not predict well-being in Germany, and predicted higher well-being in Russia and in East Asia. These cultural differences in the link between motivation to pursue happiness and well-being were explained by cultural differences in the socially engaged pursuit of happiness. These findings suggest that culture shapes whether the pursuit of happiness is linked with better or worse well-being, perhaps via how people pursue happiness.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1053-1062
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Psychological Association.


  • Culture
  • Happiness
  • Well-being


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