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
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
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
pharmaceutically induced moods in conjunction with over-prescribed
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