A new study finds a strong positive relationship between feeling good about your country and feeling good about yourself, particularly among people living in non-Western nations with low standards of living.

The study, published in the February issue of Psychological Science (Vol. 22. No.2), used results from a series of Gallup World Polls conducted annually before 2008 of more than 136,000 people in 128 countries. People rated their past, present and future lives and their feelings of satisfaction with their nation on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst possible, and 10 the best. Gallup also collected information on residential mobility, household income and people’s satisfaction with their standard of living, personal health and jobs.

Using those data, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate students Mike Morrison and Louis Tay and psychology professor Edward F. Diener, PhD, sought to fill in a research gap: the dearth of studies on how country-level events affect individual well-being. The researchers found that the relationship between national satisfaction and individual well-being is stronger in non-Western countries than in Australia, Canada, England, Western Europe and the United States. They also found that people with low incomes and fewer household conveniences — those living without reliable electricity, a telephone, a computer, TV or Internet access — are more likely to tie how they feel about their country to their sense of individual well-being. The differences by income held true across Western and non-Western countries.

“If you’re down economically, then it’s something you can turn to for consolation for the fact that these other aspects of your life aren’t going so well,” Morrison says.

The link between national pride and self-worth was weakest among people in Western countries who have higher incomes and more modern conveniences. For them, satisfaction with their job, health and standard of living mattered more, Morrison says.

“When things are personally tough, people seem to turn more to the group. When things are going well, they can focus on their individual lives more,” Diener says.

Researchers also found a link with residential mobility: People who don’t plan to move from their communities experience a stronger link between national satisfaction and personal well-being in both Western and non-Western countries.

The results have implications for interventions designed to boost people’s sense of well-being, which in addition to focusing on family and community ties, should also consider helping people feel better about their country, too, Morrison says.

—C. Munsey