Does expressing positive emotions make a person happier?
Does a society that embraces expression breed a population that’s more content?
Before you answer, let’s look at this forty-nine-country study on societal emotional environments and cultural differences in life satisfaction and well-being.
Societal Emotional Environments
First off, what is a societal emotional environment?
The paper defines it as
“the emotional climate of a society (operationalized as the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed in a society).”
In other words, our individual “emotional environment” is influenced by the emotions those around us express.
This, in turn, influences our well-being.
The study looks at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal effects of emotion expression.
- Intrapersonal – the well-being of those who express the emotions
- Interpersonal – the quality of interactions with others for those who express emotions
- Extrapersonal – the well-being of those around the expresser as a result of their expression
Not only do different cultures express emotions differently, but they value them differently too.
Particularly when it comes to intensity of emotion.
Latin American cultures, for example, tend toward high arousal positive emotions, like joy and excitement, and these are shared often, intensely, and openly.
Confucian Asian cultures, on the other hand, value low arousal positive emotions, like calm and serenity, and therefore will more often suppress expressive emotions.
The Study’s Results
While identifying the average PSEE (positive societal emotional environment) and the NSEE (negative societal emotional environment) of each society surveyed, the study evaluates the participants’ life satisfaction and well-being.
Participants self-reported the frequency of positive and negative emotional expressions.
The study found that all countries expressed positive emotions more frequently than negative emotions, some more so than others.
Italy, El Salvador, and Ghana were countries with the highest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a day,” while Japan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom had the lowest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a week.”
High PSEE country scores were in the regions of Latin America, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, Latin Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, while low PSEE scores occurred in the Anglo region, as well as Southern Asia and Confucian Asia.
Negative emotions were expressed frequently in countries like Guatemala, Bhutan, and Pakistan, averaging “a couple of times a week,” while those countries with the lowest scores – Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland – expressed them “a couple of times a month.”
The study found that societies with high NSEE scores reported lower life satisfaction on the whole (although individuals were often independently more satisfied), while societies with high PSEE scores reported higher life satisfaction but not significantly.
This seems to indicate that having negativity vocalized around you affects your life satisfaction to a greater extent than having positivity vocalized around you.
Next week, we’ll take a further look at emotions in culture.