What is it about?

Decades of happiness research has found that interdependent cultures such as Japan and Korea are less happy than similarly wealthy individualistic cultures. Why? We found evidence link happiness differences to the cultural tradition of farming rice. Rice farming was built on shared irrigation systems and more labor sharing than crops common in the West like wheat. The interdependence of rice farming encouraged tight social ties and social comparison. Consistent with this theory, we find that people in historically rice-farming areas of China (such as Shanghai) are less happy than people in wheat-farming areas (such as Beijing). In rice areas, people's happiness is more closely linked to their income and career status--aspects that are prime for social comparison. This suggests that social comparison--rooted in rice farming--can explain the happiness gap between interdependent and independent cultures.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

For years, happiness research has faced a puzzle. Strong relationships are one of the most consistent predictors of happiness. Interdependent cultures (such as Japan and Korea) emphasize relationships. Yet interdependent cultures routinely report less happiness than people in independent cultures. This study links that happiness gap to the intense social comparison in interdependent cultures, which is rooted in a history of rice farming. These findings suggest that culture leaves a legacy on people's happiness in the modern day, even after most people have stopped farming.


This study suggests that cultural differences in rice and wheat farming can affect people's happiness in the modern era.

Thomas Talhelm

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: People in historically rice-farming areas are less happy and socially compare more than people in wheat-farming areas., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, November 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000324.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page