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Pursuit of Happiness Essay

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There are many aspects of life that the American culture and Asian culture have very different views and practices, the pursuit of happiness are among these. This difference can be summarized by two very specific “contrasting cultural models”, individualistic and collectivist cultures. The individualistic culture, very prominent in North Americans, revolves around an emphasis on “individual rights, responsibilities, and freedom”. The collectivist culture, or a society which places the emphasis on “an interdependent view of self, in which personal identity is defined relationally, according to connections, and to the immediate social context”, is more prominent in Asian countries (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2009, p.


Americans are very focused on the independent person and measure their success and happiness based on individual accomplishments. American children are taught from a young age that people are generally supposed to be happy and that it is as a result of who you are on the inside and who you want to become. In general, the American belief is that the focus on personal enrichment, positive emotion, and self-satisfaction are what measure a person’s happiness levels.

The text notes that happiness is both subjective and individualized, and as a whole people judge other’s based on uniqueness and “idiosyncratic criteria”. The American pursuit of happiness goes as far as to even state it as an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence (p. 118). The individualistic culture that Americans tend to conform to both aides our happiness but also plagues us with serious negative repercussions. Our drive to be successful at what we do and be happy as a result of our accomplishment also leaves much room for failure and negative emotion if we do not reach our goals.

It also has the negative effects if we do reach our goals but are not praised in the way we deem appropriate. Americans also have the unfortunate quality of self-righteousness; we have to expect certain outcomes regardless of what we input. This behavior also determines who is at fault in situations, success leaning toward the individual, failure pointing at a flaw in the situation itself (p. 119). Asians on the other hand focus more on their success as a functional member of a family and society, as well as their cohesion within
the family unit and society.

On average, the more harmonious the family and personal relationships, the happier the individual is. This coincides with the collectivist culture, where interdependence is practiced (p. 117). Asians are generally more self-disciplined and self-critical. The success of the individual reflects on the success of the family, implying that a failure is a direct reflection of both as well.

Happiness is viewed on a larger scale than on the individual scale. The Asian culture views emotions, like happiness, as “temporary states that come and go” (p. 120). This understanding of emotion removes the unnecessary pressure that Americans tend to hold on to by seeing past the complications and striving for the functional and acceptable. Asians believe that emotions should not be the basis for setting goals or play such an obtrusive role in life decisions (p. 121).

The American way to happiness is to stand out of a crowd, whereas the Asian way is to blend in. The difference between the two cultures and their views on what is happiness is truly fascinating. As an Asian-American, I can relate to both cultural aspects. I have the internal drive to please my family, friends, and personal relationships. I feel as though, if they are happy then I too will be happy. At the same time, I strive to be the best that I can be as an individual and when I excel, my accomplishments are the driving force behind my motivation. I take great pride in knowing that a task was completed as a result of something I did. Whether American or Asian, happiness focuses on the individual.

In both cultures, the individual is responsible for whether he is happy. While outside influences may determine the extent of his happiness, the bottom line falls into his hands. Happiness is an emotion that can easily be achieved if the right combination of elements is present. True happiness is as unique as each individual.

Baumgardner, S. R. and Crothers, M. .K. (2009). Positive Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall. Retrieved from UOP, PSY 220 Positive Psychology UOP website.

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