Newsweek–Happiness: Enough Already

The plural of anecdote is not data, as scientists will tell you, but consider these snapshots of the emerging happiness debate anyway: Lately, Jerome Wakefield’s students have been coming up to him after they break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and not because they want him to recommend a therapist. Wakefield, a professor at New York University, coauthored the 2007 book “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder,” which argues that feeling down after your heart is broken””even so down that you meet the criteria for clinical depression”” is normal and even salutary. But students tell him that their parents are pressuring them to seek counseling and other medical intervention”””some Zoloft, dear?”””for their sadness, and the kids want no part of it. “Can you talk to them for me?” they ask Wakefield. Rather than “listening to Prozac,” they want to listen to their hearts, not have them chemically silenced.

University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener, who has studied happiness for a quarter century, was in Scotland recently, explaining to members of Parliament and business leaders the value of augmenting traditional measures of a country’s wealth with a national index of happiness. Such an index would measure policies known to increase people’s sense of well-being, such as democratic freedoms, access to health care and the rule of law. The Scots were all in favor of such things, but not because they make people happier. “They said too much happiness might not be such a good thing,” says Diener. “They like being dour, and didn’t appreciate being told they should be happier.” (For one man’s struggle with the pressure to pursue happiness, click here.)

Eric Wilson tried to get with the program. Urged on by friends, he bought books on how to become happier. He made every effort to smooth out his habitual scowl and wear a sunny smile, since a happy expression can lead to genuinely happy feelings. Wilson, a professor of English at Wake Forest University, took up jogging, reputed to boost the brain’s supply of joyful neurochemicals, watched uplifting Frank Capra and Doris Day flicks and began sprinkling his conversations with “great!” and “wonderful!”, the better to exercise his capacity for enthusiasm. When none of these made him happy, Wilson not only jumped off the happiness bandwagon””he also embraced his melancholy side and decided to blast a happiness movement that “leads to half-lives, to bland existences,” as he argues in “Against Happiness,” a book now reaching stores. Americans’ fixation on happiness, he writes, fosters “a craven disregard for the value of sadness” and “its integral place in the great rhythm of the cosmos.”

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Psychology

7 comments on “Newsweek–Happiness: Enough Already

  1. Don R says:

    Gosh, next thing you know, people will start saying there’s value in suffering. 😉

  2. LBStringer says:

    For someone suffering true clinical depression, antidepressants aren’t “happy pills”, they are normal pills.

  3. Don R says:

    I think the article isn’t denying the existence of clinical depression; it’s recognizing the problem that, as a culture, we’re at risk of losing an understanding of what actually is [i]normal[/i].

  4. LBStringer says:

    True enough, Don. Normal most certainly includes sadness.

  5. Ross says:

    Yeah. You’re supposed to be depressed when depressing things happen to you; it means you’re responding appropriately to your environment. The problem is when you’re depressed for no reason, or entirely out of proportion to what actually happened.

  6. Bob G+ says:

    We too often confuse “happiness” with “joy.”

  7. DonGander says:

    Bob G+:


    I sometimes say that most in our culture worship at the feet fo a god called “Happy”. They will sacrifice every aspect of their lives to appease this demanding god.

    God calls us to joy – amid multitude sorrows, difficulties, and losses. All the great saints that we are called to remember lived lives of joy. Faith and grattitude are irreplaceable aspects of joy. A person of joy may not be happy all the time but they are consistantly good company. People like to be around joyful people. One of the best examples of our time is the joyful person named, Joni Erickson Tada. Broken as a teenager, spending a life in a wheelchair, she has blessed millions because fo her joy.

    Go, and do thou likewise!

    Find joy – find life.

    Find God – find joy.

    Thank you, Heavenly Father, for bringing me into your presence right now. You have given me every need plus so, so much more! Even in this confusing and insane world where little makes me happy, your joy makes me complete!