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Cultural differences

cultural 1 Discuss these questions with other students.
  1. Who are the people in the photos and where do they live?
  2. What clues about the people and their lifestyles can you see in the photos?
2 Listen to four quiz questions about these cultures and chose one of the answers A, B, C or D for each questions. Compare your answers with other students.

Listen again and check your answers
4 Discuss these question with another student.
  1. What does the word 'culture' mean to you?
  2. Read the definition of culture on the right. How is it similar and how is it different from your definition?
  3. What customs and beliefs have you inherited from previous generations?
  4. Do you think your character and behaviour are typical of the culture you belong to? If so, how?
The system of shared
beliefs, values, customs,
and behaviours that the
member of society use to
cope with their worlds and
with one another, and that
are transmitted from
generation to generation
through learning.


Discuss these questions with other students.
  1. What information does the bar chart contain?
  2. Make true statements about these countries.

    Nigeria    Romania    USA/ Mexico    Australia/Russia
6 Discuss these questions.
  1. What factors could explain why the populations of some countries are happier than the population of others?
  2. If your country is listed in the bar char, do you think it is a true reflection of the people in your country? If it is not shown, where would you place it on the chart?

Reading for gist

7 Read the text The pursuit of happiness and say which of these general topics it covers.
  • the growth in the academic study of happiness
  • reasons for being unhappy
  • the distinction between happiness and overall 'satisfaction' with life
  • links between wealth, consumerism and happiness
  • how people's happiness affects the jobs they do
  • cultural attitudes towards happiness
8 Which parts of the text deal with the four topics you have identified?

The pursuit of happiness

How are we supposed to find happiness? Through good works and helping people? By finding religion or discovering the joys of downshifting? Whatever strategy you choose, where you live might make a difference. The latest global analysis of happiness and satisfaction levels shows that the most 'satisfied' people tend to live in Latin America, Western Europe and North America, whereas Eastern Europeans are the least satisfied.

It is not the first time such international league tables have been drawn up. What is new is how experts and politicians are taking such data increasingly seriously. Over the past decade, the study of happiness, formerly the preserve of philosophers, therapists and gurus, has become a bona fide discipline. It even has its own journal, the Journal of Happiness Studies. As a result, government policy advisers are getting interested, and politicians are using the research as the basis for new strategies.

What above all else has made systematic study possible is data gathered from hundreds of surveys measuring happiness across different cultures, professions, religions, and socio-economic groups. Researchers can investigate the impact of money and inequality; they could explore, for example, how much difference money makes to a person's happiness after their basic material needs have been met, and whether inequality in wealth and status is as important a source of dissatisfaction as we might think. 'It is an exciting area', says Ruut Veenhoven, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Happiness Studies. 'We can now show which behaviours are risky as far as happiness goes, in the same way medical research shows what is bad for our health. We should eventually be able to show what kind of lifestyle suits what kind of person'.
angels graph_happiness
While it is tempting to hold up those nations that report the highest levels of happiness as a model for others to follow, this may be unwise. For one thing, the word 'happiness' has no precise equivalent in some languages. Another complication is that 'satisfaction' is not quite the same thing as 'happiness'. When asked how happy they are, people tend to consider first their current state. To get a better idea, researchers ask people to take a step back and consider how satisfied they are with their lives overall and how meaningful they judge their lives to be.

Comparisons between countries also need to be treated cautiously. Different cultures value happiness in very different ways. In individualistic western countries, happiness is often seen as a reflection of personal achievement. Being unhappy implies that you have not made the most of your life. Eunkook Mark Suh at Yonsei University in Seoul thinks this pressure to be happy could lead people to over-report how happy they feel. Meanwhile, in the more collectivist nations of Asia, people have a more fatalistic attitude towards happiness. According to Suh, 'One of the consequences of such an attitude is that you don't have to feel inferior or guilty about not being very happy.' Indeed, in Asian cultures the pursuit of happiness is often frowned on, which in turn could lead people to under-report.

How satisfied a person is with their life also depends on how successfully they adhere to their particular cultural standard. In Japan, for instance, satisfaction may come from fulfilling family expectations and meeting social responsibilities. So, while in the US it is perfectly appropriate to pursue your own happiness, in Japan you are more likely to find happiness by not pursuing it directly.

One of the most significant observations to come from research findings is that in industrialised nations, happiness has not risen with average incomes. A growing number of researchers are putting this down to consumerism, claiming that the desire for material goods, which has increased with average income, is a 'happiness suppressant'. One study, by Tim Kasser at Knox College, Illinois, found that young adults who focus on money, image and fame tend to be more depressed and suffer more physical symptoms such as headaches. Kasser believes that since nothing about materialism can help you find happiness, governments should discourage it and instead promote things that can. For instance, they could support businesses that allow their employees plenty of time off to be with their families, whereas advertising could be classified as a form of pollution and could be taxed. 'Advertisements have become more sophisticated,' says Kasser. 'They try to tie their message to people's psychological needs. But it is a false link. It is toxic'

These days even hard-headed economists tend to agree that the key to making people happier is to shift the emphasis from economic well-being to personal development, and to discourage the pursuit of social status. This last point is crucial, believes Richard Layard from the London School of Economics, since the pursuit of social status does not make society as a whole any happier. Motivating people through the quest for rank 'condemns as many to fail as to succeed - not a good formula for raising human happiness,' says Layard.

In view of these findings, it seems that governments would do well to worry about the happiness of their electorate. There could be dangers, however. Paradoxically, by striving too hard to climb the global happiness rankings, governments are in danger of turning the pursuit of happiness into yet another competitive quest for status - just what researchers have shown is a sure path to making people miserable.

Unfamiliar vocabulary

9 Read the first three paragraphs of the text again and underline any words that are unfamiliar to you. Compare ideas with another student. Can you understand the general meaning of these paragraphs, despite not understanding the words you have underlined?

IELTS practice

10 Questions 1-3:Short-answer questions
Answer these questions with words from the text, using no more than THREE words for each answer.
  1. According to the text, what could influence your level of contentment?
  2. Which group of people is interested in the practical implications of the research into happiness
  3. Which two factors are researchers able to study in their attempt to find reasons why some people are dissatisfied?
    Questions 4-6: Sentence completion
    Complete these sentences with words from the text, using no more than THREE words for each answer.
  4. Happiness represents .......................... in the minds of people from western countries.
  5. One of the implications of the Asian attitude is that being unhappy does not make individuals feel.............
  6. An individual's level of satisfaction is partly determined by how closely they conform to their own ..........

Question 7-10: Summary completion

11 Complete the summary below. Choose no more than TWO words from the text for each answer.

Researchers have found that in developed countries happiness has not increased in line with (7) ........ . In their opinion, the fact that people have more money feeds their obsessions with buying things and this acts as a (8) ....... . Their theory is illustrated by the fact that there is a higher than average incidence of mental problems among. (9) ............. who have materialistic concerns. There is also general agreement that people would be happier if they concentrated on (10) ........ rather than their financial or social status.


12 Work with other students Rank the following factors according to how much you think they contribute to people's happiness.
family lifewealth
social network accommodation
job satisfactionhealth
13 What are the opposites of these adjectives? In some cases, you can add a prefix or a suffix; in other cases you may need to think of a completely different word.
14 Refer to the text to find answers to these questions.
  1. What do you understand by the verbs 'over-report, and 'under-report'? What other verbs do you know with these prefixes?
  2. What do you understand by the word 'consumerism'? What other words do you know that end with -ism? What general meanings does this suffix have?
  3. Use a dictionary to check the difference in meaning between these compound adjectives: 'hard-headed', 'hard-hearted', hard-pressed', hard-nosed'.
15 Match the words on the left with those on the right to form commonly occurring verb-noun combinations. Then check your answers by finding them in the text.

Example: to meet someone's needs.
to draw updata
to fulfilexpectations
to gather league tables
to meetsomeone's needs
to suffersymptoms
16 Use the verb-noun combinations above to complete these sentences. You will need to change the form of the verbs.
  1. In their investigations, social scientists ....... from many different sources.
  2. Even business which make substantial profits can fail to ..... the .... of the financial markets.
  3. Increasing numbers of people in the developed world are .... the .... of hay fever and other allergies.
  4. Education authorities in Britain .... annual .... showing the best and worst schools in their area.
  5. Research is currently being undertaken to look at how universities could .... the learning .... of individual students.

Tapescript Cultural Differences

Exercise 2

Narrator: The people in the photographs live on different continents. How much can you guess about their lives?
Photograph 1 shows somebody living in the mountains of Nepal. If you lived here, what would you be unlikely to eat for dinner? Would it be, A: Anchar, a kind of spicy pickle, B: Cheese, C: Beef, or D: Salad.

OK. Now, photograph 2 sows a villager from the Alaskan island of Shismaref. What modern convenience would be unavailable if you lived here? Would it be, A: electricity, B: running water, C: the telephone, or D: television?

In photograph 3 you can see a Quechua Indian from the Peruvian Andes. If you lived here, which of these animals would you be likely to tend for a living? Would it be, A: goats, B: cows, C: llamas, or D: chickens?

Finally, photograph 4 sows the Sami people in the North of Scandinavia. A popular game is played with animal hoof bones. What do you think it's called? Is it A: the bone game, B: Reindeer roundup, C: throwing bones, or D: wishbone pull?

Exercise 3

Narrator So, let's see how well you did. Here are the answers to the four questions. The answer to Question 1 is C, beef. In Nepal the cow is considered a sacred animal and legally protected from slaughter.

Question 2: The answer is B. Most people in Shismaref do not have running water in their houses. They collect rain or gather ice blocks to melt for drinking water.

Question 3. The answer to this question is C, llamas. The Quechua people of the Andes depend on the llama because it can carry loads at any altitude while providing people with wool, leather, meat and dung fuel.

Question 4. The answer to the last question is B. The bones are used to represent the people herding their animals and the reindeer on which their livelihood depends.

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