What Eastern Cultures Tell Us about Happiness

April 9, 2015 • Rehack Team


It feels as though we, in the West, spend most of our time in the pursuit of happiness, whether that’s defined as spending time with friends, raising a family or simply curling up at home with a glass of wine and a good TV show. If someone is unhappy, Western thinkers try to assist the person and bring him or her back to an “acceptable” level of happiness. What are differences in Eastern cultures?

This all seems like common sense to Westerners, but studies have shown that the Western perception of happiness varies a lot from Eastern interpretations.

With U.S. stress levels on the rise, it may be worth looking into what the differences are between the two and picking up some new perspectives on happiness.

Difference in Values

As is to be expected, there are some major differences in cultural values between Western and Eastern cultures.

Western happiness is seen as something that is pursued individually, as is everybody’s right. The individual is essentially the protagonist, the most important person, in their own story.

In Eastern cultures, happiness is seen to come more from social activity and obligation. Unlike the highly individualistic nature of Western values, Eastern cultures value one’s contributions to society, his or her family and friends, and the human race.

Effect of Religion

Beliefs have a large effect on happiness. In the Western, mostly Christian culture, the belief in a second life following death is a huge factor in how happiness is pursued and how it is spread around to others. People are good to others as they feel they’ll be held accountable for it in the next life.

In Eastern tradition, people are still expected to preserve other’s happiness, but it is done through a sense of duty to one’s family. Confucian philosophy stresses the welfare of the family or group, rather than that of the individual.

Furthermore, in Eastern cultures that believe in reincarnation, kindness and respect to others is upheld by the belief that one’s actions in this life will determine the form your soul takes in your next life.

Attitudes toward Family

Western philosophy places great importance upon independence. Children are expected to leave home as soon as they reach adulthood, and many choose to move away when they start college. The responsibility is always to the individual first, before the family.

In Eastern culture, though, the same isn’t found. Children often stay home for an extended period of time in their adult lives. When they do leave to start families of their own, they often move into homes in the same neighborhood or at least nearby.

Personal Happiness

In Western culture, happiness is measured by personal achievement and self fulfillment. If people are unable to follow their own ideas and dreams, they’re liable to become down and depressed. The focus is very much on individual happiness.

In Eastern culture, happiness comes from social harmony, and is very much down to the well-being of a group of people, not just the individual. If a person is able to uphold to social norms or be a part of a group, they’re more likely to be content.

Happiness as a Valued Emotion

If you ask anybody in the U.S. whether happiness is an important emotion, the reply would most likely be “Of course!” It’s a feeling people chase, and if somebody isn’t happy, it’s a cause for concern.

In Eastern culture, however, there is much less emphasis placed on happiness, at least on individual happiness. In some countries, there’s an aversion to showing outward displays of happiness, as it can be taken to mean that the happy person is selfish, shallow, or boring. There’s also belief that showing happiness can be socially inappropriate.

Eastern culture places an important emphasis on the family and belonging to a group of people. This sense of belonging can bring about a sense of peace and happiness, as the person in the group is supported by everybody else. There’s also less emphasis on individual achievements than in Western culture, which means there’s a lot less pressure to “do it all” by yourself.

By being aware of these Eastern ideals, you might be able to expand your ideas of happiness and the ways you go about achieving it.

What makes you happy? Tell me in the comments section below.