The meanings of happiness in Mass Observation's Bolton

Gazeley, Ian and Langhamer, Claire (2013) The meanings of happiness in Mass Observation's Bolton. History Workshop Journal, 75 (1). pp. 159-189. ISSN 1477-4569

PDF - Accepted Version
Download (495kB) | Preview


In April 1938, the social investigative organization, Mass Observation conducted an inquiry into the happiness of Bolton people. In this article we analyse the letters and questionnaire responses generated through a competition that asked, ‘What is happiness?’ We examine the extent to which these competition entrants were representative of Bolton population and conclude that they were broadly representative in terms of occupation and sex, but less so in terms of social class.

We describe the factors which according to competition entrants determined individual happiness. These were remarkably stable across age groups and gender. Economic security emerged as the dominant consideration, whilst personal pleasure was represented as playing little part in generating happiness. A detailed analysis of the happiness letters and questionnaires suggests that introspective and relational factors were also important determinants of well-being. We demonstrate that these introspective factors were framed by an individual’s personal moral framework and that relational factors were under-pinned by gendered conceptions of domestic happiness.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > History
Subjects: D History > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England > DA028 General
Depositing User: Claire Langhamer
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2012 08:24
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2023 12:41

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update