Journal Article

Folk Theories of Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Conceptions of Happiness in Germany and South Africa

Jan Pflug
Social Indicators Research
Vol. 92, No. 3 (Jul., 2009), pp. 551-563
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27734879
Page Count: 13
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Folk Theories of Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Conceptions of Happiness in Germany and South Africa
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Abstract

Although happiness as a state of mind may be universal, its meaning takes culture-specific forms. Drawing on the concept of folk theories, this study attempted to uncover lay beliefs about the nature of happiness in Germany and South Africa. To that end, 57 German and 44 black South African students wrote free-format essays in response to the question: "What is happiness to you?" Using thematic analysis the following themes were found: (1) satisfaction; (2) contentment; (3) positive affect; (4) social relationships; (5) freedom; and (6) the opposite of unhappiness. In addition, German respondents defined happiness in terms of (7) surprising events. The exact meaning content of the above-mentioned dimensions showed clear influences of individualism/collectivism. However, strong culture-specific factors, such as the influence of philosophical traditions, material living circumstances and linguistic influences, were also found.

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