Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand said in non-Western cultures it is a less valued emotion. The ideals of harmony and conformity are often at odds with the pursuit of personal happiness and the endorsement of individualistic values.
For instance, studies showed East Asians were more inclined than Westerners to think that it is inappropriate to express happiness in many social situations. Similarly, Japanese are less inclined to savor positive emotions than Americans.
Joshanloo and Weijers said some cultures hold the belief that extreme happiness leads to unhappiness and other negative consequences that outweigh the benefits of such positive feelings.
In both Western and non-Western cultures, some people side-step happiness because they believe that being happy makes them a worse person and that others may see them as selfish, boring or shallow, the researchers said.
People in non-Western cultures, such as Iran and neighboring countries, worry that their peers, an "evil eye" or some other supernatural deity might resent their happiness and that they will eventually suffer any number of severe consequences, Joshanloo and Weijers said.
"Many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons," the researchers concluded.
"Some of the beliefs about the negative consequences of happiness seem to be exaggerations, often spurred by superstition or timeless advice on how to enjoy a pleasant or prosperous life. However, considering the inevitable individual differences in regards to even dominant cultural trends, no culture can be expected to unanimously hold any of these beliefs."
The findings were published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.