12 Pages


It is only during the last century that, as a matter of popular understanding, we have begun to explicitly refer to our symptoms of distress in terms of the ‘problem of anxiety’ (May 1977: 3-19). While history records that people have always worried about the future, and that being emotionally burdened with the stress of life is an elemental feature of the human condition, for us to openly identify some of our more unpleasant feelings as ‘anxiety’ is almost an exclusively modern phenomenon. Certainly, it is only during the course of the twentieth century that we have begun to specifically diagnose the problems of human psychology as being rooted in our ability to solve the riddles which anxiety poses in our lives. Accordingly, the development of an expansive literature on anxiety reflects a growing preoccupation with understanding the inner self and its ability to cope with the mental and emotional distress of life in modern societies. Moreover, it appears that there are many who hold to the view that such developments imply that the actual quality of social life in the twentieth century is considerably worse than that of other periods of human history. While we are living in an age where more people than ever before enjoy good physical health, material prosperity and a great wealth of cultural riches, it is doubtful whether being ‘modern’ guarantees more happiness. Indeed, many would agree with Emile Durkheim’s contention that ‘there is no longer any reason for asking whether happiness grows with civilization’, rather, it has become all too clear that ‘if we are open to more pleasures, we are also open to more pain’ (Durkheim 1964: 233-55).