Being careful what you wish for: The case of happiness in China

Charles Stafford


This article takes ethnographic material from rural China and Taiwan and relates it to recent theories and findings in the psychology and economics of happiness. In brief, psychologists suggest that humans are not on the whole very good at “affective forecasting,” that is, at predicting their own emotions; this is consequential when, for example, they pursue money in order to be happy—not realizing that having more money will probably not, in fact, make them happier. Drawing on ethnographic findings, I suggest that people in China and Taiwan are often, in fact, as concerned with predicting the emotions of others as in predicting their own emotions. I then consider this in relation to Chinese family projects where the pursuit of wealth—“for family happiness”—appears to be a shared goal, as well as considering families in which this shared goal has to some extent, and sometimes for very different reasons, been lost.


happiness, emotions, psychology, economics, China, Taiwan

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.003