By Victoria Ludas Orlofsky
What makes people happy, on a large scale? Is happiness determined by what we have or by what we still hope to attain? If the medical, agricultural, and educational advances of the past two centuries has led to a world freer of illness, hunger, and ignorance, why aren’t we all happier?
A review of Satisfaction Not Guaranteed: Dilemmas of Progress in Modern Society by Peter N. Stearns (New York University Press, 2012)
The United States and Western Europe have experienced remarkable changes: reduced child mortality rates, expansion of public education and greater access to higher education, greater agricultural production, and longer average lifespans. Yet the results of these huge shifts have been quickly absorbed as the norm. This has led people to forget how much easier modern life has become compared to the way it used to be, while at the same time leading people to expect a higher level of personal satisfaction than may be achievable. The tensions that affect people amid so much positive progress are, Stearns says, a part of the “modernity process,” not disconnected sources of conflict.