by Toffler



Happiness in a Cultural Context

Today I was reading my email and received a ‘FW:…’ Normally when I receive those emails I just ignore them because its usually something I don’t have time for and neither do my friends when it says ‘Forward this to 7 friends for good luck’ or something like that. The other risk is, sometimes viruses are hidden in these types of emails.

However, today I decided to read one entitled ‘FW: Natural Highs.’ This email listed 45 things that make us feel good. As I was reading it, I realized some of them were very culturally Western (or even American) and others were more universal. I believe a look at the list will show that some of these ‘natural highs’ only make sense within their cultural context:

1. Falling in love
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts
3. A hot shower
4. No lines at the supermarket
5. A special glance. // After living in China, its hard to say what ‘A special glance’ is. I get strange glances from Chinese people all the time, but they just make me nervous.
6. Getting mail
7. Taking a drive on a pretty road. // When I read this one, I thought of a drive we took through the Chilean countryside and it did make me smile just remembering it. But I wonder if Chinese people (or Westerners living in China) would have the same feelings of fondness for this one. Even driving down pretty roads in China is, to me, marred by the constant honking that goes on.
8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio
9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside. // If you’re from Seattle or some other place where it rains constantly, is this still enjoyable?
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer. // I like this one. Too bad there are no dryers in China, so I doubt many Chinese could have experienced the joy of this one.
11. Chocolate milkshake.. (or vanilla or strawberry!)
12. A bubble bath! // Few homes in China, and even fewer in Hong Kong have bathtubs. Ours, for example, is not big enough to sit in. I wonder if homes in Europe have bathtubs (I know my apts in Spain did not). Therefore, this too may be a strictly American enjoyment.
13. Giggling
14. A good conversation
15. The beach // If you live in Shanghai, I don’t know that the beach is that much of a pleasure. But I do know that even though Chinese and Japanese people don’t like sun, they do still like the beach; they just prefer it in the evening when they won’t get sun.
16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter. // Well since the largest Chinese note is RMB100 (~US$12), that’s not likely to happen in China. But hey, $12 is still good!
17. Laughing at yourself. // Can/do Chinese people laugh at themselves?
19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours
20. Running through sprinklers
21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all
22. Having someone tell you that you’re beautiful. // After (being me) living in China, this one starts to lose its luster. When people (both males and females) are constantly telling you, ‘you are beautiful girl,’ ‘you are pretty lady,’ or ‘hey beautiful girl, come here, come look at this’ it starts to feel like irony, like that found in The Canterbury Tales.
23. Laughing at an inside joke
24. Friends
25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you
26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep
27. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner)
28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones
29. Playing with a new puppy
30. Having someone play with your hair
31. Sweet dreams
32. Hot chocolate. // Although, probably tea in the case of China. 😉
33. Road trips with friends. // I think this one must be very American. Although a few Europeans do take road trips, I’d say most Europeans, like most Chinese, would connect better with ‘Train trips with friends’ or ‘Vacations with friends.’ I was glad to share a road trip around California and Arizona with Chinese (HK) friends and European friends. Now we can all enjoy this one together. 🙂
34. Swinging on swings
35. Making eye contact with a cute stranger
36. Making chocolate chip cookies. // This one is very American. Definitely don’t think any Chinese people (except for my Taiwanese roommate, Annie, who lived in the US for 8 years) have ever done this. I would also guess very few Europeans have done this either, as ovens are not very common in European households and chocolate chip cookies are even less common.
37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies. // Since no one has an oven in China, guess they don’t send any homemade desserts. I wonder if they do this in Europe? I guess in China store-bought Moon Cakes for Mid-Autumn festival are the closest they get.
38. Holding hands with someone you care about.  // This one almost seems non-American as many other cultures tend to be a lot more touchy and affectionate than Americans.  For example, in China, female (and even guy) friends often hold hands or link arms as they walk down the street.  As these people all must be on natural highs, maybe they know the real secret to happiness and closeness.
39. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (good or bad) never change
40. Watching the expression on someone’s face as they open a much desired present from you
41. Watching the sunrise
42. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day
43. Knowing that somebody misses you.  //  Since I’m so far away, I think that means a lot of people miss me…
44. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.  // Looking forward to Mom, Bob, and Grandparents’ arrival.  Will expect big hugs from all of you then!
45. Knowing you’ve done the right thing, no matter what other people think.  // This one is perhaps the most culturally limited of all of them  In the US, we can appreciate ourself when we do the right things.  However, more often, in China, its better to protect your family and close friends than to do the right thing.  In China, what other people think is far more important than doing the right thing.  This is because ‘face’ is sooo important in Chinese society.

I enjoyed this list and I hope you will enjoy it for its emotional boost, too.  I hope that then you will take a second look and see how much of it is rooted in American culture.

To my Chinese friends, I would love to hear what small things make you happy.  What is culturally significant that gives you a natural high?


  1. Elva |

    1. Cooking with/for your lover/family
    2. Chatting with your roommates late into the night in university (4 or 6 students share one bedroom here)
    3. Being admitted to a quite good university, e.g. Tsinghua Uni., Peking Uni., Fudan Uni. & Jiaotong Uni.)
    4. Traveling abroad
    5. Receiving a birthday blessing SMS from an old friend
    6. Lending a hand to friends who are in need of help

  2. mjbphx |

    Drinking great wine and having cheese and crackers with family and friends, while sitting out on the deck watching the city!

    We’re looking forward to lots of hugs, too!

So, what do you think ?