Wellbeing research needs more cultural approaches





There is a long-standing tradition in social science research on wellbeing, in which scientists create national rankings of happiness. Traditionally, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Denmark tend to top these lists. Such rankings are interesting as dinner table conversation and they are perennially reported on by the media. They also reflect a specific mindset about wellbeing research. Namely, that cross-cultural comparisons are interesting, that they are possible to make, and that nations can serve as reasonable proxies for culture. Although there is an element of truth to all three suppositions, there are also legitimate limitations to them. This article argues that positive psychology and wellbeing researchers should adopt a cultural as well as a cross-cultural perspective. This requires increasing sophistication in A) the understanding of culture itself, B) the methods for investigating it, and C) the complexities of cultural research. Examples and recommendations are provided.


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