The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


Disney World: it’s “the happiest place on earth.” To work there, you must study at the Disney University, where experts in the “science of guestology” know just how to maintain beaming smiles and infectious enthusiasm while surrounded by overexcited children and their demanding parents. There are lessons (they would call them “games”) in managing facial expressions and gestures; you learn, too, how to transform your inner monologue, to convert feelings of FRUSTRATION and RESENTMENT into enthusiasm and DELIGHT.

Disney employees, like many others who work in service industries where “surface acting” positive emotions is explicitly demanded, have been shown to be at greater risk of burnout. In our increasingly flexible, consumer-focused economy, it’s worth asking whether we should take compulsory cheerfulness more seriously.

The emergence of cheerfulness as a workplace requirement can be traced back to America, a country well known for embracing an upbeat, can-do attitude. This is a relatively recent development. The diaries and letters of seventeenth-century Americans are as miserable in tone as those of their European counterparts. Humility, rather than the desire for change, seems to have been the appropriate response to life’s hardships and injustices.

Historians have traced a change in attitude to the eighteenth century, and in particular, to the self-sufficiency and striving valued in an emerging capitalist economy. America’s lack of class system has also been thought to contribute to its expectation of openness. Harriet Martineau, an English sociologist who visited the US in 1830, was set all afluster when a local cracked a joke to her at a train station. She noted, rather disdainfully, that “a general air of cheerfulness” could even be felt in the country’s asylums and graveyards—presumably she was more used to European hauteur.

Among the first workers encouraged to be upbeat and enthusiastic were housewives. According to the Beecher Sisters’ 1869 manual for housekeeping, women should bring a “patience and cheerfulness” to their homes. A positive attitude at home, they wrote, would ensure their family’s success in the world beyond, as nourishing to their husbands and children as the casserole in the oven. This makes American housewives among the first encouraged to perform “emotional labor,” the name sociologists give to the work undertaken when employees are explicitly directed to control their own feelings in order to influence those of others.

By the end of the First World War, a new sort of specialist, the industrial psychologist, entered the workplace. Charged with preventing workplace unrest and increasing productivity, they concluded that optimism and a can-do attitude (rather than raised wages or better working conditions) were the critical factors. By the 1930s, 30 percent of American companies had industrial relations departments to oversee the hiring process and test employees for “introversion” and other “temperament deficiencies.” It was against this backdrop of compulsory cheerfulness that Dale Carnegie wrote one of the classics of self-help literature, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, in 1948. He advised salesmen to always be “vivacious,” greeting clients with a cheery smile and cracking a joke. And if the salesman happened to be dissatisfied that day? Well, the solution was easy: “Think and act cheerful,” instructed Carnegie, “and you will be cheerful.”

Can trying to act upbeat when you don’t actually feel upbeat really work? There is some evidence that suggests it might, and that contorting your face into a grin might truly influence the emotions you feel.* But some psychologists and sociologists have questioned the long-term effects of sustaining a workplace rictus smile. In her seminal study of flight attendants, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild found that during their training they were repeatedly exhorted to be “nicer than natural” to passengers. The company’s intention was for the flight attendants to elevate the status of the passengers, and make them feel that flying was a luxury experience. The cost, however, was to the flight attendants themselves. Hochschild’s interviewees reported that over time, they had come to feel estranged from—even mistrustful of—their own feelings.

Until recently the problems of “emotional labor” were thought to be faced only by low-paid, predominantly female service-industry employees. However, in the last ten years sociologists have studied doctors, university teachers and members of the police force on both sides of the Atlantic—and concluded that explicit demands for employees to manage their feelings are on the increase.* The requirement to be cheerful has been identified as a particular culprit, with grumpiness becoming less tolerated as anxieties about employee trustworthiness rise (see: DISGRUNTLEMENT). Since “emotional labor” is thought to contribute to increased levels of stress and symptoms associated with depression and ANXIETY among employees, we may find ourselves in the peculiar position where the pressure to be cheerful leads to dissatisfaction, exhaustion and alienation.

Have a nice day!

See also: HAPPINESS.