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Does the Impact of Positive Emotions Differ Across Cultures?

Research reveals positive emotions and psychological well-being play a role in our physical and mental health.

Positive emotions help us to be more resilient and mediate our ability to cope with stress and manage mental health concerns.

Simply put, being happy can actually lead us to be healthier and live longer.

(he majority of these studies are based on Western (middle-class European American) samples, however, and haven’t revealed clear insight about how culture plays a role in this process.

I wrote a previous article exploring how important the context and situation is to the value of positive emotions, and it’s not necessarily one size fits all.

A further research study I came across applies this same notion to the construct of culture, and asks if positive emotions are just as positive culture to culture?

Researchers surveyed over 600 European-, immigrant Asian-, and Asian American college students exploring the relationship between positive emotions and depression symptoms.

What did the research reveal?

Basically, positive emotions provided a buffer against mental health concerns for the European and Asian American population but did not significantly alter depression symptoms for immigrant Asians.

Overall, for all cultures an increase in negative emotions related to increases in depression. However, increase in positive emotions didn’t have the same impact across cultures.

Just as there is evidence that mental health concerns are shaped by social context, so to is the impact of positive emotions influenced by culture and social context.

There may be different social norms and numerous connotations for positive emotions across cultures.

So, as a practitioner or someone personally looking to develop greater happiness, it’s important we recognize that there are different predictors and implication of our emotions depending on our sociocultural development.

There are two things in particular this research emphasizes.

1. Positive emotions are not necessarily just the opposite of negative emotions, but are more of a distinct dimension of mental affect.

2. It emphasizes the negativity-bias where negative emotions overshadow positive emotions, and that negative feelings will influence our mental health in a harmful manner.

The major reason I find positive psychology fascinating is because we can learn to apply the study of positive emotions, strengths and virtues to our personal lives and hopefully live a more full, meaningful, and thriving life.

We are all unique individuals, however, with varies beliefs, expectations, and interpretations of the world around us.

Our culture and socialization may lead us to develop a diverging interpretation of emotions, and what may be considered a “positive” emotion for one person may not necessarily elicit the same benefit for another.

When examining mental and emotional health it’s clear that environment and culture has an influence on the development of psychopathology, so when exploring positive emotions and optimal mental health, a biopsychosocial model is also prudent.

We want to consider social expectations and cultural diversity when exploring interventions and how we can become happier and live a more joy-filled life.

Photo credit: Blueberry87


Leu, J., Wang, J., & Koo, K. (2011). Are Positive Emotions Just as “Positive” Across Cultures? Emotions, 11 (4), 994-999.

Does the Impact of Positive Emotions Differ Across Cultures?

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). Does the Impact of Positive Emotions Differ Across Cultures?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Nov 2011
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