We can’t be happy all the time. Sometimes it’s good to be unhappy. It’s all about maintaining a healthy balance, I suppose.
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.” …
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