How Much Is Enough in a Perfect World? Cultural Variation in Ideal Levels of Happiness, Pleasure, Freedom, Health, Self-Esteem, Longevity, and Intelligence Academic Article uri icon


  • The maximization principle-that people aspire to the highest possible level of something good if all practical constraints are removed-is a common yet untested assumption about human nature. We predict that in holistic cultures-where contradiction, change, and context are emphasized-ideal states of being for the self will be more moderate than in other cultures. In two studies ( Ns = 2,392 and 6,239), we asked this question: If participants could choose their ideal level of happiness, pleasure, freedom, health, self-esteem, longevity, and intelligence, what level would they choose? Consistent with predictions, results showed that maximization was less pronounced in holistic cultures; members of holistic cultures aspired to less happiness, pleasure, freedom, health, self-esteem, longevity, and IQ than did members of other cultures. In contrast, no differences emerged on ideals for society. The studies show that the maximization principle is not a universal aspect of human nature and that there are predictable cultural differences in people's notions of perfection.


  • Hornsey, Matthew J
  • Bain, Paul G
  • Harris, Emily A
  • Lebedeva, Nadezhda
  • Kashima, Emiko S
  • Guan, Yanjun
  • González, Roberto
  • Chen, Sylvia Xiaohua
  • Blumen, Sheyla

publication date

  • 2018