Cultural processes underlying subjective well-being

Young Hoon Kim, William Tov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The subjective well-being (SWB) of an individual refers to her or his own sense of wellness and consists of a variety of cognitive and emotional components. Cognitive SWB includes life satisfaction, which taps into individuals’ own evaluation of their lives. Emotional SWB is commonly assessed by the frequency of pleasant emotions and infrequency of negative emotions. Although survey studies of SWB have been conducted since the mid-20th century (see Diener, 1984), extensive research on SWB - cross-cultural research in particular - did not begin to accumulate until the 1990s. In particular, overall levels of SWB as well as its correlates and possible psychological causes have been of great interest to recent cross-cultural researchers. In this chapter, we highlight cross-cultural differences in SWB and provide a theoretical foundation for understanding the psychological processes related to those differences. We restrict our comparisons to those between European American and East Asian (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) samples in part because research on these groups is extensive. In both groups, SWB may be influenced by common psychological factors (e.g., goal attainment, self-esteem). The nature of these factors and the degree to which they covary with SWB may differ across groups, however. For example, self-esteem is more strongly correlated with SWB in Western nations (around. 60) than in Asian nations (around. 40; Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995). In other words, how positively individuals perceive themselves might be less predictive of life satisfaction in East Asian cultures. Our interpretation of these differences draws largely on the cultural psychology of self-construals (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), which assumes that individuals can define themselves either in reference to or in isolation from their social roles and that certain cultures may value one type of self-construal over another.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultural Processes
Subtitle of host publicationA Social Psychological Perspective
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511779374
ISBN (Print)9780521765237
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jan 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2011.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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