Sunday, 5 June 2011

Happiness as a Statistic

I heard a statistic the other day that frightened me. Well, frightened me more than the standard obligatory fear you get when you hear any statistic. The frightening number was that around 30 million Americans suffer from depression and that’s only the ones that are being prescribed Prozac, Valium and the other happy pills. There is also a very similar percentage of ‘depressed’ people in the UK as well; two countries that are meant to be on the forefront of economic growth.
Although this fact is scary in of itself, the scarier thought is that is appears to be hip to talk about happiness at the moment. Governments, sociologists, bloggers, economists all have something to say about it.
What I am worried about is that scientists are starting to understand what a happy brain should look like, the patterns in static that indicate elation. What worries me is that we could get the wrong end of the stick and prod and poke our brains chemically, sonically or physically to bend the waves from a sad face to a happy one. Happiness from the inside out if you will. Not in a Buddhist way of course, in a cold utilitarian way.
I just think of the Philip K. Dick conceived box that enabled you to dial in an emotion. ‘Please press one for happiness, press two for depression, press three for love…’ In a world where psychiatrists hand out anti-depressants like the Easter bunny hands out Easter eggs, this is surely the next step.
In a pessimistic way I wonder if happiness becomes another statistic that governments are rated on what route we will take. Will we download the emotion of the day through our technological gadget of the moment? Will we have a Monday pill which makes us forget the weekend happened and makes work the most exciting thing to happen to us? Will we opt for the artificial Orwellian future?

Press one you say?