Off DeWall: Happiness Across Cultures

On my way to class this morning, I saw one of my students gazing at the beautiful scenery surrounding the classroom building. His English name is Garden (he’s next to me in the attached photo). We talked for a bit and then Garden asked me a question I had never been asked, “Are all Americans happy?”

I didn’t know how to answer. I told Garden that his question intrigued me, and I asked him what led him to ask me whether all Americans are happy. He told me that I seemed quite happy, even happier than most people he sees every day. Because I’m the first American he’s ever met, he wondered if most Americans were like me. Garden said that he believes Chinese people don’t wear a smile on their faces that much, possibly because they have a lot to worry about.

There are cultural differences in happiness. People from France are happier than people from America, whereas Americans are happier than people from Finland. But what I think is more important is how similar people are in what makes them happy. Whether you live in China or America, having positive and lasting relationships – the sort of strong social connections that Wired seeks to cultivate – is a key to happiness.

I told this to Garden, who understood what I meant. I told him that I’m a naturally happy guy, which I probably get from my late mother. She was the sort of person who could light up a room with her positivity. Some people will always be happier than others, but having supportive relationships can rid people of the sadness, uncertainty, and unpleasantness that are inevitable parts of life. 

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