Special Issue, Living well: Histories of well-being and human flourishing

AHP readers will be interested in a recent special issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences on Living well: Histories of well-being and human flourishing, guest-edited by Mark Solovey and Deborah Weinstein. Full details below.

“Living well: Histories of well-being and human flourishing,” Mark Solovey and Deborah Weinstein. Extract:

…. As a large body of historical scholarship attests, debates about the meanings, conditions, and measurements of human well-being are hardly new, however. Historical studies on a wide array of topics have examined, and sometimes critiqued, efforts by the social and behavioral sciences to improve human welfare. Currently, the state of research in this area is rich, but it is also diffuse as scholars pursue a number of worthwhile lines of investigation but typically with little cross-fertilization among them. Thus, a central aim of this volume is to foreground the question of how the social and behavioral sciences have engaged with matters concerning happiness, wellness, and human flourishing and to encourage sustained historical examination of related issues in the future.

“Equanimity: The somatization of a moral sentiment from the eighteenth to late twentieth century,” Francis Mckay. Abstract:

Over the past 40 years, mindfulness-based therapies (MBTs) have gained a reputation among the biomedical community for their ability to contribute to health, mental capital, and human flourishing. Recently, however, critical mindfulness scholars have questioned the moral import of MBTs, claiming that, in modernizing meditation, they strip Buddhist practices of their ethical and soteriological content. Inspired by Harrington and Dunne’s (2015, p. 630) recent call to historicize this present discontent, I offer an account for this perceived “de-ethicization” of mindfulness, locating it in a long history of changes in the ontological infrastructures supporting moral reasoning from the eighteenth century onwards. Through the example of equanimity—a virtue that has been a part of Western and Eastern character ethics and theories of flourishing from the ancient period to the modern age—I show how, from the eighteenth century, research in the natural sciences on nervous diseases, stress, and relaxation, provided a frame for rethinking moral equanimity as a somatic experience of physiological calm. This transformation reaches its peak in the late twentieth century in research on mindfulness, which builds upon that tradition by folding into its ambit Eastern conceptions of equanimity as well. Insofar as modern MBTs continue to somatize moral virtues, I argue that they raise questions about the degree to which they are conducive to human flourishing and well-being, as opposed to the related but narrower notions of health and mental capital.

“Downsizing obesity: On Ancel Keys, the origins of BMI, and the neglect of excess weight as a health hazard in the United States from the 1950s to 1970s,” Nicolas Rasmussen. Abstract:

In 1972 Body Mass Index, BMI was put forth by physiologist Ancel Keys in his analysis of Seven Countries Study heart disease epidemiological data as the best available measure of obesity. This work culminated more than 20 years of effort by Keys to discredit the accepted measure of obesity, weight relative to height, along with a major public health campaign in the United States to fight heart disease through weight control. Here, I retrace his campaign to replace weight as a measure of obesity and analyze its methodology and relationship to the broader research field of heart disease epidemiology. I also explore why the epidemiological community accepted BMI despite Keys’s failure to demonstrate that either it or adiposity (body fat content), were superior as predictors of heart disease—one of the Seven Countries Study’s central aims.

“Of Maslow, motives, and managers: The hierarchy of needs in American business, 1960–1985,” Kira Lussier. Abstract:

This paper examines the impact of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in American management. I trace how a roster of management experts translated the hierarchy of needs into management through case studies of job redesign programs at Texas Instruments and marketing firm Young & Rubicam’s management training. The hierarchy of needs resonated with management, I argue, because it seemed to offer both a concrete guide for management, with practical implications for designing management training and work structures, alongside a broader social theory that purported to explain changing social values and economic circumstances in America. For the management theorists who invoked the hierarchy of needs, the corporation served as both the prime site for people to fulfill their higher psychological needs and the ideal site to study and cultivate motivation. This article contributes to histories of psychology that show how psychology became a prominent resource in American public life.

““Act thin, stay thin”: Commercialization, behavior modification, and group weight control,” Jessica Parr. Abstract:

In 1968, Weight Watchers International introduced behavior modification practices to their established commercial program. At the time, the addition of behavioral psychology gave Weight Watchers a distinct advantage over the many competing weight control groups in postwar America. The process of combining group therapy with a controlled diet plan, behavior techniques and later, exercise, has significantly influenced American popular culture. This article considers how the commercialization of group weight control impacted the development and dissemination of a new multidimensional approach for weight management and how this has shaped popular ideas associated with dieting and wider understandings of healthy living.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.