Happification Medication
an Excerpt


I don't take Prozac or Zoloft or the peaceful sounding Paxil. I don't avail myself of the over-the-counter wonders of Kava, Valerian Root, or the medieval sounding St. John's Wort. I don't take Sam-e either. But, plenty of my friends do.

As I see more and more of my friends helping themselves to this turquoise, green and yellow rainbow of panaceas, I feel increasingly that I am in a rapidly dwindling minority. This minority consists of those of us who don't agree with the growing trend towards "happification".

I see friends and acquaintances medicating themselves to fit in with "acceptable" moods and contributing to the creation of an artificially happy and bright representation of a societal norm. The veneer of acceptable emotional gamut runs from happy to perky to bright and sparkly and back to happy again. It's as if there is a fashionable set of moods that no one wants to step outside of for fear of being an emotional "Don't."

It's been said that treating depression is now as easy as treating a cold. The operative word here is treat. The depression is treated but in most cases not cured by these OVTC miracles, resulting in an ongoing course of expensive "maintenance" therapy. We are exhorted to take a pill for a bad mood: Take X for your tension headache. Take Y for your long hard day. Here's some highly effective Z for those hard to shake doldrums. We treat moodiness as if it should be medicated instead of worked through, listened to, learned from. Instead of listening to our inner feelings we're listening to Prozac.

We are encouraged to view our negative feelings and bad moods as somehow aberrant or wrong. I disagree with that supposition. Call me a "True Feelinger" or a "Real Emotionist", but I think that it is fitting to feel sadness when we are hurt. It is normal to feel anger when we see injustice. And, it is appropriate to feel disappointment when our longings and hopes are not fulfilled. Denying those natural reactions is destructive. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you act in a manner that is contrary to your true feelings.

That happy grin affixed to the face that belongs to a saddened heart covers up the unsightly feelings for a time. But, any time that you cover something like that up it's bound to fester deep inside where you are purposefully oh so purposefully not looking. Instead of inducing an artificial state of contentment in circumstances that truly merit feelings of unhappiness (an abusive relationship, an unfulfilling job, a spiritual vacuum), those feelings should be allowed to be felt. Popping a pill inhibits the kind of introspection necessary to fix or leave an abusive relationship, make a career change, have a spiritual renaissance. We can learn from the "long dark night of the soul." Choices can be made. Actions can be taken.

I'm not saying that there isn't an appropriate application of these drugs in the lives of those who truly need them. I just think it is too easy to put on a happy face just by popping a pill. It's prevalent to expect that from our acquaintances, our friends, ourselves. I think the problem is not that Prozac is over-prescribed, but rather that "Happiness" is over-prescribed and unreasonably demanded.

I am reminded of that old Twilight Zone episode in which there was a utopian world of "beauty" to which all were forced to conform. If any "unattractives" were born into this world, well then, they had an operation that bestowed the necessary beauty.

The story centers on the patient (unseen, due to deliberate shadowing) currently scheduled for "beautification." This patient fights against this forced beauty argues against it rejects it wants to be left alone. But the doctors in this place (who are equally unseen due to shadowing) calmly press upon their recalcitrant patient the unavoidable acquiescence to the commonly accepted perfection of beauty.

At the end of the episode the camera finally pans to the recovering and bandaged patient. As the bandages are removed the assembled nurses and doctors gasp in horror. "It didn't work!" exclaims one of the nurses as we in the audience gaze at the patient's beautiful face. There is a shocking discord of music as the camera pans to the doctors and nurses and their faces are finally seen. They are seen to be monsters.

Will surgery be next? That may sound bizarre now but keep in mind that surgery is often the "next step" in appearance altering procedures (think face lifts that followed face creams and breast implants that succeeded push-up bras). Will the next step to putting on a happy face be some sort of surgery that makes it impossible to frown (just sever those "superfluous" muscles that make it possible you've heard that it takes less facial muscles to smile than to frown)? Or, perhaps a micro-mini lobotomy involving the part of the brain that makes it possible to feel those unwanted emotions (kind of like shaving off unwanted hair growth)?

If happiness were a color in the painting of life then it would be all the richer for having been limned in sadness, all the brighter for having been contrasted with pain and more moving for having been illuminated amidst the darker colors.

When I think of the "happy face", that bright yellow circle delineated in black, in relation to real live emotions, I think of how it's flat and two-dimensional. You can keep your happy buttons. I won't be artificially amputating or herbally regulating a natural part of my psyche into something it's not.

 


 

Authors Note: This 1500 word article has addendum sidebars: sidebar on resources and papers pertaining to the treatment of depression and a sidebar on famous individuals through history who dealt with depression and a sidebars on the correlation between artificial beauty and  plastic surgery, and between artificial happiness and pharmaceutically induced moods in conjunction with over-prescribed antidepressants.

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