Sources of Happiness: A Mixed Methods Phenomenological Study of Factors Affecting Residents’ Subjective Wellbeing in Shenzhen, China

Deborah Kerstetter, Xiangyou Shen, Xiaoli Yi, Bing Pan, Gaojun Zhang, Rui Li, Jie Gao, Guangming Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maintaining cultural sensitivity has been a challenge in subjective wellbeing (SWB) research involving nonwestern populations, which continues to primarily use a quantitative approach and Westernoriginating measurements. Accounting for culturally specific characteristics of the study area and sample, we employed a concurrent mixed-methods phenomenological approach to uncover factors contributing to urban Chinese residents’ SWB in the context of their daily lives. Data from 65 semi-structured interviews in Shenzhen, China revealed five meta-themes, including harmony in interpersonal relationships, financial wellbeing and homeownership, health, physical and social environment, and intentional activities and mentality. Residents’ background contextual information was cross-referenced with the meta-themes to enrich data interpretation, unveiling the profound imprint of age and life stages, the broad-scale structural inequities associated with China’s household registration system, and the firm grip of traditional family core values and folk wisdom in the form of a transcendental mindset of inner peace and dignity. The results provide a contextualized understanding of the primary sources of SWB relevant to today’s urban Chinese residents, and offer valuable insight about the social-cultural complexities involved in “ordinary” Chinese residents’ pursuit of happiness that is co-shaped by individual effort, deep-rooted traditional values, and consequential social infrastructure and policies amidst the country’s deepening, transformative urbanization. Keywords: China, Cultural Sensitivity, Happiness, Mixed Methods, Phenomenological Approach, Socio-Cultural Context, Sources of Happiness, Subjective Wellbeing, Urban Resident

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-199
Number of pages33
JournalPsychological reports
Issue number1
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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