The researchers focused on how eastern versus western cultures approach happiness. In one study from 2004, Taiwanese and American students were asked their opinions about what happiness is; whereas many of the American participants considered happiness to be the highest value and supreme goal in their lives, Taiwanese participants made no such statements.
Other research has found that personal accountability – a belief that happiness is everybody’s right and each persona is responsible for their own happiness – was more strongly endorsed by American than Chinese participants. In contrast, the dialectical balance between happiness and unhappiness was more strongly endorsed by Chinese than American participants. When Chinese volunteers were shown different graphs of how happiness might change over the course of a life – in a linear vs. nonlinear trend, and asked to pick the graph they preferred. Whereas Americans were likely to choose the linear graph, Chinese respondents were more likely to choose the nonlinear graph in which their personal happiness reverts or oscillates.
What explains these major cultural differences? Part of the answer lies in the fundamental values that different cultures emphasize. In Eastern cultures, the emphasis is on attainment of social harmony, where community and belonging are held in high regard. In Western cultures, the emphasis is on attainment of happiness, where the individualistic self tends to be celebrated.