Happiness is back

By Andreas Killen

By Salon Staff
Published August 4, 2000 7:38PM (EDT)

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Andreas Killen's article is interesting, but I have just one caveat on his references to Aristotle: Aristotle's notion of happiness as virtue does not imply "virtue" in the moralistic sense of a Bill Bennett or George W. Bush, of doing what is right according to a received Christian cultural tradition that preaches self-denial. Aristotle's notion of happiness as virtue means that happiness is derived from activity that is carried out in an excellent manner. It is not an "austere notion" (perhaps unlike that of Plato), but simply the rich idea that we find happiness through carrying out human activities in the best manner we are capable of.

-- Steven McNamara

I wonder how many people just don't know they could be happy. With all the commercials telling us we can't be happy without a certain product, we live in a climate of induced unhappiness. If you are told a hundred times you can't be happy and this occurs every day of your life, it's a wonder anyone in our society can possibly claim to be happy.

-- Tom Hawk

The author of this piece perpetuates a major falsehood in the book he is aiming to critique. Prozac is not a "happy pill." None of Prozac's many cousins are "happy pills." Prozac and its cousins are antidepressants. They relieve depression and some anxiety disorders. Depressive and anxiety disorders are not the same as unhappiness. They are mental illnesses, sometimes mild, sometimes severe. No one feels "happy" as a result of taking an antidepressant. The successful outcome of antidepressant treatment is the relief from a syndrome that prevents patients from feeling happy, even under happy circumstances. If a patient without a depressive or anxiety disorder experiences "happiness" as a result of taking the pill, they are experiencing a placebo effect -- the relief of demoralization via the reestablishment of hope.

I do not doubt that antidepressants are misused by some physicians who may misdiagnose demoralization or unhappiness or maladjustment as a depressive or anxiety disorder; in practice, physicians who do so find their patients do not find happiness, or even relief, from taking the pills. At any rate, what is so annoying about this common journalistic error is that it contributes to the stigmatization of mental illness and the avoidance of treatment by those who legitimately need it. I hope this one journalist, at least, will get it right next time.

-- Dean F. MacKinnon, M.D.

Salon Staff

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