In the field of positive psychology, which came into its own as a separate study in 1998, morale is thought to be a marker of collective or group well-being, whereas satisfaction is considered a marker of personal well-being. In promoting quality of life, positive psychologists must examine individuals as well as the groups in which those individuals interact, for instance, the workplace. If living a good life means being a social creature, it becomes necessary to promote quality of life at every level. Interventions at the group level may not only be more efficient, but also cost-effective and quite powerful.
Some psychologists have called for finding an indicator to measure national well-being. It makes sense that such an exploration would include measures at both the individual and group level for quality of life. Morale has much potential as an indicator for this purpose.
The word morale was coined by the French in the mid 1770s. The original meaning of the word was good moral conduct. However, the word evolved to signify a sense of confidence and, in general, was applied to those serving in the military.
During the French Revolution, a new concept -- demoralization -- came into being. At first, demoralization was defined as moral corruption. The word was also used in connection with the military and described the aim of destroying the confidence of opposing military forces.
Today, the word morale represents emotional, cognitive and motivational attitudes in relation to the tasks and goals of a particular group. As such, the concept of morale would include a sense of a common purpose, group optimism, confidence, loyalty and enthusiasm. Outside the parameters of positive psychology, morale is used to describe not just groups but also individuals, which creates a bit of a challenge for the social scientist dedicated to studying this topic. The French term esprit de corps brings another level of meaning to group morale, which connotes a feeling of devotion to the group and a concern for group honor.
In the modern world, morale as a concept has meaning beyond the military. When a country is at war, the term morale can refer to the will of civilians to continue their support of the military and the war. The word morale is also used to discuss school spirit, the workplace, organizations and sports teams.
The fact that positive psychologists see morale as a measure of group rather than individual well-being can be explained through example. A military commander is not so concerned about the morale of the individual solders under his command. Instead, he looks for morale at the group level as an indicator of group well-being. The reason for this is that if just one or even a few soldiers have high spirits, it is unlikely that the morale of the group as a whole will be high. Morale at the group level requires commitment and confidence as a group.
On the other hand, a group with good morale can sustain this spirit in spite of a handful of malcontented soldiers. There will, of necessity, be a tipping point, beyond which morale begins to deteriorate. Too many disgruntled soldiers may lead to the demoralization of the troops.
This example helps to explain why some social science theorists have seen morale as a group issue while others have seen morale as a feature of the individuals in a group. Perhaps it will never be possible to qualify or quantify the term to perfection. The issue remains murky.
Assessing morale is therefore an imperfect science. Should scientists interview individuals within a group and then tally the results to yield a measure of group morale? It is feared by many scientists that this technique is taking the path of least resistance and leaves many important factors, perhaps critical to measuring group morale, unexplored.
Also, there are known cases in which the individuals of a particular group proved unimportant to the morale and success of the group as a whole. For instance, in 1972, the Miami Dolphins had less than stellar personnel but gave a stellar performance as a team. Meanwhile, in the 2004 Olympics, the U.S. men's basketball team had among its members many famed players, but the team dynamics never took off, leading to a poorer performance than had been expected.
The challenge of researchers in the field of positive psychology is to include group-level measures that can be assessed independently of measures at the individual level. It may turn out that social scientists will come to see morale as both a group-level issue as well as an individual-level issue. As the field emerges, the need to conceptualize and find proper measures for morale remains a crucial problem.