No Country for Sad Men

Death_of_a_salesman A few years ago, with my pastor and a group of core leaders at my church, we plotted out timelines of our lives. We used a poster board and some multi-colored sticky notes. We listed life events in different colored notes. Green notes were used for periods of significant growth. Purple notes were used for periods of trial or hardship. Pink notes were used for significant milestones. And blue notes were used for the people, books, or films that may have had a significant impact on our thinking or our growth.

What was most interesting about mapping out one's life this way, was to see how often times of significant spiritual growth (the green) came after or in the midst of times of trial or hardship (the purple).

In this light, I find the recent Newsweek article, "Happiness, Enough Already," especially interesting. In the article, the author explores how the recent upsurge in charting the Gross National Happiness Product, or the trend in medicating normal bouts of sadness with anti-depressants, may be circumventing a natural, and healthy part of life--sadness. Here's an excerpt:

It's hard to say exactly when ordinary Americans, no less than psychiatrists, began insisting that sadness is pathological. But by the end of the millennium that attitude was well entrenched. In 1999, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" was revived on Broadway 50 years after its premiere. A reporter asked two psychiatrists to read the script. Their diagnosis: Willy Loman was suffering from clinical depression, a pathological condition that could and should be treated with drugs. Miller was appalled. "Loman is not a depressive," he told The New York Times. "He is weighed down by life. There are social reasons for why he is where he is." What society once viewed as an appropriate reaction to failed hopes and dashed dreams, it now regards as a psychiatric illness.

That may be the most damaging legacy of the happiness industry: the message that all sadness is a disease.