A recent study published in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies by Mohsen Joshando and Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington is the first to study the concept of happiness aversion. Many individuals, they argue, do not see happiness as a “supreme value”.
The study was a cross-cultural one which identified a tendency towards happiness-aversion in individuals from both Western and non-Western cultures. However, there is a larger tendency in the West to value happiness:
In American culture, it is almost taken for granted that happiness is one of the most important values guiding people’s lives. Western cultures are more driven by an urge to maximize happiness and minimize sadness. Failing to appear happy is often a cause for concern. Its value is echoed through Western positive psychology and research on subjective well-being.
In non-Western cultures, in contrast, it is a less valued emotion. The ideals of harmony and conformity are often at odds with the pursuit of personal happiness and the endorsement of individualistic values. For instance, studies have shown that East Asians are more inclined than Westerners to think that it is inappropriate to express happiness in many social situations. Similarly, Japanese are less inclined to savor positive emotions than Americans.
Indeed, there is a distinct cultural tendency in certain non-Western cultures to have an almost superstitious belief that if one is too happy, a supernatural force might rob us of our contentment. The researchers found that individuals in Western and non-Western cultures both oftentimes tended to associate happiness with shallowness.
“Many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons,” the researchers conclude. “Some of the beliefs about the negative consequences of happiness seem to be exaggerations, often spurred by superstition or timeless advice on how to enjoy a pleasant or prosperous life. However, considering the inevitable individual differences in regards to even dominant cultural trends, no culture can be expected to unanimously hold any of these beliefs”