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The Age of StressScience and the Search for Stability$
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Mark Jackson

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199588626

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199588626.001.0001

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The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

(p.224) 6 The Pursuit of Happiness
The Age of Stress

Mark Jackson

Oxford University Press

As the scientific credibility of biological theories of stress declined, Hans Selye turned to public lectures, media appearances, and popular publications to promote his concept of stress to the world. Selye's energetic advocacy, along with the widely disseminated writings of Herbert Benson, Richard Lazarus and others on stress, relaxation and yoga, ensured that the notion of stress became a regular motif in popular culture, legitimating a range of self-help literature that either promised strategies for stress-reduction or designated some forms of stress (`eustress’) healthy and protective. Accentuated by anxieties about the threat of communism and global political instability during the Cold War, scientific understandings of stress at a biological level were mobilised by commentators attempting to restore social harmony, reduce political instability, and redress ecological imbalances. Selye suggested that human societies, like human bodies, should be governed by a principle of `altruistic egotism’, which would ensure both social stability and personal happiness. Chapter Six argues that, although the perceived epidemic of stress was often dismissed as a myth, by the turn of the millennium scientific and personal narratives of stress had become convenient vehicles for articulating and validating concerns about the attainability of happiness and well-being, about the impact of modern lifestyles on the balance of nature, about the political security and economic stability of the world, and about the harmony of the cosmos.

Keywords:   happiness, altruistic egotism, cold war, ecological harmony, political instability, self-help literature, the myth of stress, lifestyle and health

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