Culture and Subjective Well-Being

23 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2013

See all articles by William Tov

William Tov

Singapore Management University

Ed Diener

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Date Written: January 10, 2013


Over 2,000 years ago, the Buddha percieved suffering to be the nature of existence. But for him, the attainment of nirvana was not simply a break from this cycle of suffering, it was also a return to true bliss. Although it was not the direct purpose of meditation, happiness was certainly an important consequence, and a critical topic in Buddhist philosophy (Gaskins, 1999). Across time and cultures, generations of people have in their own way reflected upon the question of happiness. As long as it has been pondered, it may come as a surprise that the scientific study of happiness, or subjective well-being (SWB; E. Diener, 1984) has advanced only recently.

One of the challenges has been defining happiness in a way that enables it to be measured. Given that conceptions of happiness may vary across different societies, a number of questions arise regarding how culture influences the idea and experience of happiness. Do the structure and content of SWB differ? Do certain cultures emphasize some components more than others? Are the correlates and causes of happiness similar across cultures? Do people react differently to the experience of well-being (e.g., when they feel pleasant affect)?

As it has been studied over the past two decades, SWB involves frequent pleasant emotion, infrequent unpleasant emotion, and life satisfaction (LS). The first two components are affective; the last is a cognitive evaluation. These three components are not the only elements of SWB. Happiness also can be said to consist of other dimensions, such as meaning and purpose in lite. However, in this review we focus on LS, pleasant affect, and unpleasant affect, in past because these constructs have been researched more frequently across cultures. Furthermore, these components of SWB are major focal points that allow for a certain degree of precision in measuring the fuzzier, folk concept of happiness.

Suggested Citation

Tov, William and Diener, Ed, Culture and Subjective Well-Being (January 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

William Tov

Singapore Management University ( email )

90 Stamford Road
Level 4
Singapore, 178903

Ed Diener (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL Champaign 61820
United States

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