Habits of the Heart

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303

Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life is sociologist Robert Bellah's 1997 book about religion in the United States.

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The book's first chapter, "Pursuit of Happiness," chronicles the story of Brian who, at mid-career, suddenly finds the values he had once made prominent in his life goals no longer have the existential importance to him that they once did. He remarks about his orientation to a different perspective of happiness:

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To be able to receive affection freely and give affection and to give of myself and know it is a totally reciprocal type of thing.

The book largely continues in this manner, looking at the stories of individual people and unearthing grains of wisdom in their experiences. Examining the case of Melinda, a younger newlywed, Bellah notes that she feels a disconnect from what she believes the role of a wife should be and her own sense of self:

Each of our moral traditions carries a sense of the self at work distinguished by its peculiar idea of job, career, and calling in relation to one another.

Beyond just Brian and Melinda, however, Bellah notes that occupational ideas of self-worth tend to dominate our thoughts:

. . . lose a sense of who one is and what one wants can make one less attractive and less interesting. To be a person worth loving, one must assert one's individuality.

In the book's appendix, Bellah reflects and synthesizes the themes of the book to conclude the following:

If we, too, have had to find a new way to deal with new realities, we have done so not my inagining that with us a truly scientific social science has at least arrived but by consciously trying to renew an older conception of social science, one in which the boundary between social science and philosophy was still open.

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