Our children are watching us, always. With little effort or fanfare, they typically adopt our characteristics, mannerisms, behaviors and beliefs. This can be a good thing, or, as psychologist Dr. Larry Waldman cautions, it can be a path to trouble. A collective desire to always “feel good” seriously can harm us and our most precious relationships. We present, “Better Living Through Chemistry?” –JDS
All living things, human and animal, strive for homeostasis, the ability to keep things in balance. For instance, when they are hungry, they eat; when thirsty, they drink; when sleepy, they nap. Humans, though, take this one step further. Not only do we want our biological processes balanced, we want to feel good. (We feel good when the pleasure center in our brain is stimulated.) Things like alcohol, drugs, fatty and greasy foods, jewelry, fancy cars, expensive clothes, sex and intense video gaming have little to do with balance but everything to do with seeking pleasure. It’s a feeling good movement of epidemic proportion.
To a very large degree, our health care system operates in similar fashion. If the patient doesn’t feel well, a pill is prescribed with the hope they will feel better in the morning.
Unquestionably, the number one killer of adults in the United States is lifestyle: bad diet, overeating, lack of exercise, drinking and drugging, and smoking. All these habits are aimed at, that’s right, “feeling good.” Approximately 50% of US adults today are overweight, and, accordingly, there is an epidemic of diabetes and hypertension. How much will the next generation of adult men weigh when most of them spent their entire adolescence seated staring at a video screen? Interestingly, the recreational use of marijuana for purposes of inducing pleasure, has been legalized in several states; it stimulates binge eating.
The response to this situation has been bariatric procedures and, yes, more pills. I distinctly remember a fertilizer/chemical company in the 60s named Monsanto. Their business motto was, “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
We had no idea how true that would become.
The Primary Treatment
The primary treatment today for depression and anxiety, the two most common mental health issues, is, again, medication. Antidepressants certainly have a role in the treatment of these major maladies, but pills should not be the only intervention, but that’s often the case. Changing behavior and thoughts have been shown to be quite helpful in managing depression and anxiety, but they rarely are used.
Recently a friend of mine noted he was depressed and his doctor (a general practitioner) had prescribed him Zoloft, a common antidepressant, several weeks ago. He was not yet feeling well.
I asked him, “What is the number one thing you would like to have happen that would might make you feel better?” He answered he would like to be in a relationship. When I next asked him, “What have you done to find a relationship?” he admitted he had done nothing. (I was unaware that Zoloft can bring you a girlfriend.)
Was it the Zoloft or the behavior? I don’t know for a fact, but my vote is for the changed behavior.
As a long-term behavioral psychologist, I am fond of the statement, “It is easier to behave your way into a new feeling than to feel your way into a new behavior.” I submit lots of people today are taking pills and/or drugs simply hoping to feel better.
A Better Way
Suggestion: The next time you wish to feel better, don’t pop a pill, down a beer, or smoke a joint. Instead, tell your significant other you love them; read a story, take a walk, have a bike ride with your child; stroke your pet; call your parent and tell them you were thinking of them; go to the gym; write a letter of gratitude to someone who has been kind or helpful to you; meditate; do a yoga practice; do some rhythmic breathing. All of these examples, and there are many more, are healthy, natural behaviors that can effectively change our feeling state.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” has led us down a dark and dangerous path. It is time to take a new direction.###
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for 38 years. He has worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provides forensic consultations. He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for Northern Arizona University. He is the author of five books (currently) involving parenting, marriage, personal wellness, and private practice. His contact information is: 602-418-8161; LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.