The study by University of Virginia psychology professor Shigehiro Oishi and colleagues was conducted at three other institutions. The findings of the study revealed that, on average, European-Americans claim to be happy in general, more happy than Asian-Americans or Koreans or Japanese, but are more easily made less happy by negative events, and recover at a slower rate from negative events, than their counterparts in Asia or with an Asian ancestry.
On the other hand, Koreans, Japanese, and to a lesser extent, Asian-Americans, are less happy in general, but recover their emotional equilibrium more readily after a setback than European-Americans. "We found that the more positive events a person has, the more they feel the effects of a negative event," Oishi said.
"People seem to dwell on the negative thing when they have a large number of good events in their life. "It is like the person who is used to flying first class and becomes very annoyed if there is a half-hour delay. But the person who flies economy class accepts the delay in stride," Oishi added.
The study included more than 350 college students in Japan, Korea and the U.S. over a three-week period. The students recorded daily their general state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with life, as well as the number of positive and negative events they had during the course of each day.
After the survey, the researchers found that the European-Americans needed nearly two positive events (such as getting complimented or getting an A) to return to their normal level of happiness after each negative event, such as getting a parking ticket or a lower grade than expected. The Koreans, Japanese and Asian-Americans generally needed only one positive event to make up for each negative event.
Oishi therefore concluded that people who become accustomed to numerous positive or happy events in their life are more likely to take a harder fall than people who have learned to accept the bad with the good. And because negative events have such a strong effect when occurring in the midst of numerous positive events, people find it difficult to be extremely happy. They reach a point of diminishing returns.
"In general, it's good to have a positive perspective. But unless you can switch your mindset to accept the negative facts of everyday life that these things happen and must be accepted it becomes very hard to maintain a comfortable level of satisfaction," Oishi said.
The new study is published in the October issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.