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Peter N. Stearns

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Peter N. Stearns

A growing interest in happiness has been a crucial aspect of modern Western culture since the Enlightenment. Its evolution, alongside the emergence of new labor forms in factories and offices, suggests an obvious, though difficult, relationship and this forms the focus of the present essay on happiness and work in industrial society. Developments in the nineteenth century almost certainly reduced job satisfaction for many workers in contrast to artisanal or even rural experience. At the same time new issues––such as the relationship between what would ultimately be called personality and the work ethic, or the growing importance of measuring work by wages––took shape that have conditioned the interaction between jobs and happiness ever since. Formal interest in workplace happiness increased measurably during the first half of the twentieth century, as experts and management sought to promote greater job stability and productivity while reducing labor unrest. Several conflicting approaches emerged, complicating the assessment of actual results. Job happiness probably lagged behind the surge of interest, though some connections can be explored. Finally, at the outset of the twenty-first century, a new commitment to well-being on the job suggests a new stage in the elaboration of ideas about workplace emotion, inviting another evaluation of the relationship between actual emotional trends.