The Politicization of Unhappiness

Ronald W. Dworkin in National Affairs:

We all yearn for happiness, and yet so many Americans are unhappy. Polls document a rising tide of unhappiness — especially now, as the pandemic has upended life, with 23% of Americans claiming to be unhappy. This represents the highest figure on record since 1972. Yet even in 2019, with the economy humming, levels of unhappiness had been rising for some time.

The medical literature confirms the unhappiness trend in a different way. Up to half of today’s Americans regularly numb themselves with mood-modifying substances ranging from the legal, such as anti-depressants, to the illegal, such as heroin. In the case of anti-depressants, people justify their prescriptions by “medicalizing” their unhappiness, calling it a neurotransmitter problem. Whether they are right to do so has framed the unhappiness debate for the last 20 years.

But that debate is ending, and a new one has begun. The focus of the “medicalization of unhappiness” debate was whether unhappiness should be considered a scientific problem. That issue has given way to the “politicization of unhappiness.” Whatever unhappiness Americans feel in their private lives has spilled over into the public realm, with ramifications far beyond whether people who take drugs to feel happy should be doing so.

More here.