Explaining differences in societal levels of happiness: Relative standards, need fulfillment, culture, and evaluation theory

by E Diener, Re Lucas
Journal of Happiness Studies ()


This article addresses the question of which societal characteristics are likely to enhance subjective well-being. Empirical results bearing on four theo- ries are presented: needs theory, goals theory, relative standards models, and cultural approaches. The theories are to a degree compatible, rather than completely con- tradictory. There is empirical support for each of the theories, but also there are data contradicting a simple formulation of each model, and no approach can by itself explain all of the extant findings. For both applied and theoretical reasons, it is imper- ative that we determine the types of societal characteristics that enhance subjective well-being. In this vein a model called Evaluation Theory is proposed, in whichSWB depends on people’s evaluations of self-relevant information. Attention is selective and therefore the factors that determine its focus are likely to influence evaluations of events. Thus, appraisals are likely to be influenced by chronically accessible informa- tion, which in turn is influenced by the person’s needs, goals, and culture. Currently, salient information is seen as being a key to life satisfaction judgments. The present paper describes numerous limitations in current research suggesting studies that will allow more definitive theories to emerge.

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