Dissertation Abstracts

“Happiness, Uneasiness, Discontent and Quality of Life. A new Social Perspective for the XXI Century”

Author: Rodríguez-Molina, Teresa T., ttrodmol@hotmail.com
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Granada, Spain
Supervisor: Professor Juan Carlos de Pablos Ramírez
Year of completion: 2012
Language of dissertation: Spanish

Keywords: Happiness-Quality of Life , Uneasiness-Discontent
Areas of Research: Conceptual and Terminological Analysis , Theory , Communication, Knowledge and Culture


This investigation is based on a social and historical study of four fundamental concepts of Western culture: happiness, uneasiness, discontent and quality of life. Their deeper general senses and their semantic notions take part in the way of interpreting the world, they are present in the intellectual interpretation of that world and they are in the daily orography, where the force and the impact of their experience reside. As a part of the economy and use of ordinary things, they are conjugated as synonyms of that extraordinary human capacity to improve one’s own life and the world that surrounds it (happiness-quality of life) in whose reverse (uneasiness-discontent) they are erected as two exponents of the human being with other singular tragic condition of the Westerners that, in particular, it accompanies us for the history as a heavy load. However, are they really the same harmonized mean happiness-quality of life, uneasiness-discontent? Have they always been between us or each one of them have an emergency and a narrative singular chord?
This has been traced and proposed with this investigation: a trip in time and for time where theoretical intention and methodology have been:
1. To chart the semantics of those fundamental concepts of Western culture.
2. To define the terms of a problem, in other words, to demonstrate why those concepts do not have an interchangeable meaning.
3. To describe why is outstanding to make a social and historical analysis with the intention of evidencing the specific historicity of each one of them and how it is a definitive argument that it demonstrates as erroneous the synonymy use in this case.
To achieve this, the perspective that has been used is understanding history like a continuum, being articulated in two cardinal contexts (modernity and post-modernity) in addition to the four mentioned concepts, related in a same social and historical level: that of the facts or the real one and the theoretical one or of the intellectuality.
Of this way, the first concept, happiness, is presented like a certainty of the illusion. In fact, the idea of happiness has fascinated the mind of millions of people through time and its pursuit and yearning represent one of the deepest motivations in Western culture. That has converted it:
1. To a problem, because one cannot say what it is. In this sense, Kant wrote that the concept of happiness is so uncertain that, although everybody wants to get it, nobody can say in a definitive and firm way what it is one really wants or pursues.
2. To a concern because, without being a human being's biological distinguishing characteristic, social and culturally, their yearning is imputed to the human nature, in other words, all humans have a single desire. In that sense, Seneca already outlined that the question is not to doubt if all the men want or not to be happy, they want it, the difficult thing is to know what makes a person’s life happy.
Individually, therefore, like Savater said, we don't know of certain more than the vastness of its demand. Historically, the idea of happiness is it for a human product that emerged, over time, under the peculiar belief that human beings have the capacity to overcome distress and to transform reality. Of this way, in front of a strong determinism of the old world and of the Oriental cultures, Western ones believe that to get rid of the closing of the circumstances has been one of the most fruitful exercises and a special feature of human intelligence. For that reason, happiness is an idea that has allowed us to live amid the circumstances as if they were not definitive or absolutely decisive. In that sense, it has worked as intentional evidence, that is to say, as the last premeditation of our actions. From the Greeks until our contemporaneity, happiness, to be happy, is conceived as the maximum aspiration of human beings.
Once that has been clarified, as for the historical journey of this idea that is so singular in our culture, from the Old world until the Half Age, three big visions about happiness are conforming their idea and they explain an important part of the meaning of human life of that time:
1. Fatalism or the tragic sense in the old world. In Greece before Socrates, happiness was something that simply happened and over which human beings had no control because it was believed that they could not have influenced in a definitive way or have control of the circumstances that fate provides. In that time the life of men belonged completely to the designs of a capricious and arbitrary destination, dominated by the irrational will of the Gods.
2. The transformation of that tragic sense as consequence of philosophy and of the socio-political circumstances of the Classical Grace, where it was thought for the first time that human beings could influence their destiny through their own actions.
3. With Christianity, however, is established the perspective of their eternal promise.
As for the basics of modern happiness, in first place, the precedent is based in the secular idea of happiness, justified in Christianity with the division that Santo Tomás made differentiating between perfect and imperfect happiness. It is possible to find this imperfect happiness in this world, a path that after the Protestant Reformation and Humanism, especially with the cult for man's dignity, it will open the gates to idea of secularized modern happiness, that is to say, as something possible to reach the earth for natural means and without God help, such orientation and like the men of Enlightenment will conceive, when the idea of happiness will be understood as a right and like an obligation, that is to say, its earthly promise will be consecrated like a feasible aspiration for men and the last end of society.
In the XIX century, however, like an instrument in the service of Utilitarianism, the idea of happiness was moralized and its calculation was established based on a maxim: the biggest happiness for the biggest number of people. Nevertheless, inside that vast context of change and hopes calculated for the future, the social laws could guarantee the search for happiness, but to achieve it becomes a matter or a problem of each person. In that sense, happiness, to be happy, mainly, was held up as the equivalent of the search for prosperity, pleasure and wealth, at the same time that the achievement of those parameters passed to depend exclusively on the individual.
Calling on the individual as responsible for their own happiness, this individual will discover a class of earthly misery until then unknown: the blame and the grief that a person can be experiencing for not being happy in a culture that demands it of them and it offers to them. The idea of postmodern happiness was arriving. Although Welfare State has lavished certain security, although men can enjoy a number of comforts, to conserve health, to prolong existence, an optimistic and easy vision of life that consumption takes place without rest, the human being in the end of the XX century is heading towards recognizing with a hard fact: that comforts cannot be obtained effortlessly and also it is not possible to enjoy them without anxiety.
In that context of abundances without end, paradoxically, daily life becomes the scenario of a flimsy happiness where, reduced to the dimensions of the self, happiness is not a natural idea but a remote possibility, although desirable, but only a possibility, only a human desire which we don't understand as lost but to the one that is only granted relative truth of psychotherapy or probability.
Quality of life, in that sense, is an inherent term to the Welfare and to human well-being in the social and cultural context of postmodern consumption. It appears for the first time in history in the decade of the 50, in the public debates no out of environment and the deterioration of the conditions of urban life. At the beginning of the 60 with the growing interest in the human conditions of life and the institutional concern to know the consequences of industrialization, the need of to study it arises and it begins to be measured as a social and political parameter. From then on, its brief but intense history shows two important facts:
1. Their construction like institutional speech associated to the human Welfare-Well-being, where it arose as an organizing principle that could be applied for the improvement of the conditions of life in the advanced industrial societies and in the developing countries, from there starting to be used indistinctly for a series of purposes: the evaluation of the needs of people and their levels of satisfaction in rich countries, the evaluation of the results of the programmes and of the human resources, in the address and guide in the provision of services, in the formulation of the Public Policy, and so on.
2. Their conformation like element of the everyday life that put together the sense of existence in the context of postmodern consumption. Starting from the decade of the 90 s materially and symbolically, people build and experience the daily world through consumerism, where the material abundance is an unavoidable reality because consumerism transforms all things that people expect from life. As a consequence, the individuals are starting to take an active part in the construction of their own lives and here it is where the search for the quality of life becomes a reference mark and a key sense for the daily life. Being articulated in the context postmodern consumerism, it is a concept mixed with the behaviors, yearnings and expectations that impact directly on the habitual processes through by which people make their daily decisions.
Uneasiness and Discontent are two concepts that are attributed to the Western environment as elements of order-disorder, crisis, risk and contingency. In fact, the dimensions of security-uncertainty, or the perception of order-disorder is common in all ages. Practically those parameters are inseparable from life of people because they are the dimensions that are shaping the spirit to the heat of the incessant changes and contingencies of this world. In that sense, the world is perceived as orderly and as a sure place while the senses don't raise doubts and routine actions work well. On the contrary, the world is perceived in disorder or with lack of sense when it is not possible to lean on the security.
This is something that is evidenced clearly in the social contexts where each social context builds and it informs the content of those parameters of order-disorder, as if it is possible to prove through these different historical answers: Hebrew man's Messianic, the scorn of the Cynics, the resistance of the Stoics or the resignation of the Platonists, or as the transformation in the sense of the world as a consequence of Christianity will prove or as is possible to prove through the archetypes of Dr. Faustus, by Goethe, and The Man without Qualities, by Robert Musil.
In consequence, it is possible to affirm that uneasiness is a contingent product of modernity and is inseparable from the perception-experience being shaped at the end of the XIX century, like a significant reality characteristic of the modern human life, when one has conscience or once one had conscience of a series of derived problems of modernity (the ambivalence of the idea of progress, the suspicion of reason or the Cartesian shade, the principle of uncertainty of Heisenberg or the Solipsism concept). In other words, uneasiness is understood as not intrinsic to modernity and man oat the end of the XIX century perceives it, he conceives it and he suffers it like a consequence of the ambivalence of modernity. In definitive, it is the contingent product of the failure of the Enlightenment project or of the distance that exits between the conditions of modernity and the consequences of modernity, as the diagnoses of Simmel, Ortega or Freud will prove.
Discontent, however, could be understood as a contingency of post-modernity as soon as much in the consumers’ contexts of abundance and possibilities without end, the human being feels a great torment because he has to make decisions and to constantly choose. The discontent would be in fact mainly an experience that comes as consequence of that environment of the election-decision, because the postmodern human being wants to be rewarded with a satisfactory result for his permanent effort of choosing.
This fact is inseparable from the context of postmodern consumers since the consumer socialization doesn't contemplate the limit dimension, essential to the parameter of individual possibility-election. Among other things, it is this way because the dynamics of consumerism is constantly increasing the possibilities and expectations of life, starting from adscription of the consumer to a special growing of new consumptions. Thus, structurally, in the contexts of postmodern consumers the limit is not considered systemic but rather it is remitted to the individual's biography. In it, two important aspects impact in the election and they cause a permanent dissent:
1. The Contra-factual Thought, that is to say, to think of a world that is not real, but it could be real.
2. The Hedonistic Model, that is to say, anything that is below that level will seem a loss.
As the postmodern individual contemplates the imaginary possibilities as a realizable and real possibility, the Contractual thought stimulates a deep regret and the Hedonistic Model locates the individual in the environment of the constant evaluation of the experiences. In other words, as it is not possible to have all the things that we want, but we want them, and they don't satisfy us as much as we expected, we live the postmodern experience of discontent.
As part of the conclusions, I have thought about the inclusive strategies and the daily resilience. If we want to understand those two aspects, in fact, it would be necessary to go inside the floating territories of the postmodern human mind. It remits to the encounter of a plural self with the world without frontiers, to the polytheism of values, to plural identities and to a "dialogic" reality (when two antagonistic meanings are not experienced as a contradiction). All these aspects make me to think that an inclusive experience would be the answer to the rigors and demands of the postmodern life, like part of the daily Resilience of the everyday life, probably, one of a timeless human resources that largely takes part of us supporting the difficulties, desires and daily delights. In other words, the inclusive strategies would be a form of daily Resilience in the postmodernity or the answer that the postmodern man has generated to face the severities and requirements of the XXI century. Taking an important part of those inclusive strategies, one of the most prominent singularities could be to allow that the perception of everyday life is not configured with the drama of contradictions.