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Satisfaction Not GuaranteedDilemmas of Progress in Modern Society$
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Peter N. Stearns

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814783627

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814783627.001.0001

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Modernity and Ideas of Happiness and Progress as Historical Forces

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Peter N. Stearns

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NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9780814783627.003.0003

This chapter emphasizes the tight connections between contemporary modern frameworks and processes that date back over two hundred years, and the similar links between injunctions toward cheerfulness and their recent past. Modernity and expectations of happiness were both huge departures from the traditional past. They launched at the same time and place—the eighteenth-century West. They reinforced each other in many ways, and their impact, though evolving, has in each case continued to the present day. But the two developments were distinct. Modernity involved problems as well as opportunities—hardly a formula for consistent cheer. Efforts to blend modernity and happiness, through formal ideas of progress, glossed over distinctions for many articulate optimists into the early twentieth century. Ultimately, however, the combination could not survive the onslaughts of the twentieth century or the persistent complexities of modernity itself.

Keywords:   modernity, eighteenth-century West, twentieth century, contemporary modern frameworks, happiness

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