Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 649–662 | Cite as

What Does “Happiness” Prompt in Your Mind? Culture, Word Choice, and Experienced Happiness

  • Ji-eun Shin
  • Eunkook M. Suh
  • Kimin Eom
  • Heejung S. Kim
Research Paper


What three words come to your mind in association with “happiness”? We analyzed the 1563 words reported by 521 Korean and American participants in this free association task. The most frequently endorsed word was “family” in Korea, whereas the most popular word among Americans was “smile.” The overall frequency of social words (e.g., relationships, social emotions) reported by Koreans was higher, and the most often mentioned relationship type differed between the two groups (family in Korea; friend in the US). Nonetheless, both in Korea and the US, individuals who mentioned more social words were significantly more satisfied with their lives. The amount of social support provision mediated the link between the number of reported social words and experienced happiness. Regardless of culture, a simple count of social words associated with happiness appears to offer a reasonably good clue for how happy the person actually is.


Happiness Word choice Culture Free association task 



This research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2011-330-B00230).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ji-eun Shin
    • 1
  • Eunkook M. Suh
    • 2
  • Kimin Eom
    • 3
  • Heejung S. Kim
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social SciencesSingapore Management UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyYonsei UniversitySeoulKorea
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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