Psychologist Mohsen Joshanloo and philosopher Dan Weijers of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, note that in Western culture, “happiness is universally considered to be one of the highest human goods, if not the highest.” Furthermore, Weijers told me in an email, “if many Americans think they live in the land of opportunity and freedom, and that their happiness is largely a result of their own efforts,” then squandering the chance of happiness may be seen as a moral failing, because the unhappy person may be “too lazy or selfish to pursue happiness diligently and honestly.”

In their surveys, however, Joshanloo and Weijers discovered that some people—in Western and Eastern cultures—are wary of happiness because they believe that “Bad things, such as unhappiness, suffering, and death, tend to happen to happy people.” In Russia, notes Stanford psychologist and happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, the expression of happiness “is often perceived as inviting the ire of the devil.” And in many East Asian cultures influenced by Buddhism, the quest for personal happiness may be seen as misguided, because pleasure is focused on the self, leading to such vices as “cruelty, violence, pride, and greed.” These groups tend to prize social harmony above an individual’s happiness and therefore place greater emphasis on good interpersonal relationships.