Cultural and Ethnic Variations in Aspects of Positive Psychology

By Edara, Inna Reddy | Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Cultural and Ethnic Variations in Aspects of Positive Psychology


Edara, Inna Reddy, Indian Journal of Positive Psychology


The evolution of positive psychology in recent times has been focusing on human strengths and virtues rather than pathology and insufficiencies (Peterson & Park, 2003; Seligman, 2002; Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi, 2000). Yet it is worth remembering that cultural rules and ethnic norms often dictate what can be labeled as strength versus weakness or what is positive versus negative (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2009). Thus, as Amet (2008) indicated, a pertinent goal for psychological research should be one that represents a demographic profile of humans in a broad and culturally diverse context. Moreover, the American Psychological Association (APA, 2003) appealed for culturally sensitive research that identifies culture as the focal point in describing the relationship with other psychological variables. Therefore, this research study investigated the cultural variations in certain aspects of positive psychology, such as forgiveness, subjective well-being, spirituality and religiosity among European Americans, Chinese Americans, and Asian Indian Americans.

Aspects of positive psychology

Positive psychology categorized forgiveness as interpersonal approach (McCullough, Root, Tabak, & Witvliet, 2009), subjective well-being as an emotional approach (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2009), and religiosity and spirituality as specific coping approaches (Pargament & Mahoney, 2009).

Forgiveness: Forgiveness is described as an intraindividual dynamism with a goal of prosocial change that is set within a specific interpersonal context (McCullough, Bond, & Root, 2005). McCullough, Rachal, et al. (1998) described forgiveness from the perspective of motivational changes through which victims experience forgiveness as they become less motivated to seek revenge against a transgressor and simultaneously become more benevolent toward the transgressor. When described in transformational terms, it is said that a person who forgives experiences positive, love-based emotions (Berry & Worthington, 2001 ; Worthington & Wade, 1999). Also, forgiveness is perceived primarily as an interpersonal construct in social settings (Fu, Watkins, & Hui, 2004; McCullough & Worthington, 1999) as it is reinforced by culture and viewed by others as a positive action that maintains order and enhances trust between interrelated groups of people (Edwards, Lapp-Rincker, Magyar-Moe, Rehfeldt, & Ryder, 2002).

Subjective well-being: Subjective well-being (SWB) is all about a happy and satisfyinglife. It is a broad construct that includes people's pleasant and unpleasant emotional responses, and judgments of global and domain life satisfaction. A pleasant emotional response includes components of joy; an unpleasant response includes guilt and sadness; global life satisfaction includes desire to change, whereas domain satisfaction includes work and family(Dicncr, 2000). However, how people pursue this psychological goal of subjective well-being seems to vary in interesting ways across cultures. For instance, it has been reported that self-judgment of happiness is anchored on different types of cues and experiences across cultures (Suh & Oishi, 2004). Diener, Suh, Lucas, and Smith (1999) said that even though happiness and well-being is a universally cherished goal, the degree to which it is imprinted in an individual's mind seems to vary across cultures.

Spirituality and religiosity: On the one hand, some scholars have reported that spirituality is an aspect of universal human experience (see Moberg, 2002; Piedmont & Leach, 2002). With its universal appeal, spirituality is increasingly used to refer to the personal and subjective side of religious or transcendental experience (Hill & Pargament, 2003), while religiosity is relegated to a system of beliefs in a divine power and practice of worship toward such a power, which arise from the inner experience of an individual when he or she senses a Beyond (Hill et al. …

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