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What Constitutes a Good Life? Cultural Differences in the Role of Positive and Negative Affect in Subjective Well-Being


  • This article is based in part on the first author's dissertation, submitted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We would like to thank Ying-yi Hong, Justin Kruger, and Larry Hubert for their feedback on earlier drafts of this article. This research (Study 3) was in part supported by a National Institute of Mental Health grant (R01-MH16-849-01) to Ed Diener and Shigehiro Oishi.

concerning this article should be addressed to Derrick Wirtz, Department of Psychology, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858-4353. E-mail:


ABSTRACT East Asians and Asian Americans report lower levels of subjective well-being than Europeans and European Americans. Three studies found support for the hypothesis that such differences may be due to the psychological meanings Eastern and Western cultures attach to positive and negative affect. Study 1 demonstrated that the desire to repeat a recent vacation was significantly predicted by recalled positive affect—but not recalled negative affect—for European Americans, whereas Asian Americans considered both positive and negative affect. Study 2 replicated this effect in judging satisfaction with a personal friendship. Study 3 linked changes in European Americans' life satisfaction to everyday positive events caused by the self (vs. others) and changes in Japanese life satisfaction to everyday negative events caused by others (vs. the self). Positive affect appears particularly meaningful for European Americans and negative affect for Asian Americans and Japanese when judging a satisfying vacation, friendship, or life.