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Writer recommends ‘happy pills’

07 June 2013


"I KNOW that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live," writes the author of Ecclesiastes.

The author of the book Happy-People-Pills for All would agree, but his prescription for securing this happiness has, he says, revealed divisions among "religious people".

Dr Mark Walker, assistant professor of philosophy at New Mexico State University, wants to see "a future where there is a cheap and readily available supply of happiness-boosting pills for everyone".

In his book, he argues that happiness is "rooted in our neurophysiology and neurochemistry, and, indeed, to a large degree, in our genes". It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of happiness is genetic, Dr Walker writes. The pills he would like to see developed would "free us from 'slavery' to the genetic endowment bestowed upon us by nature".

Dr Walker suggests that there are "morally compelling reasons" to use pharmacology to enhance happiness. He lists studies that suggest that the happiest people tend to have the most success in love, at work, and in making friends, and says that "while success does cause happiness, happiness also causes success".

The book concludes that, at least, governments should permit the development of happy-people pills, but may even have a "moral duty" to develop them.

Dr Walker cites a study by Dr David Healey, in which healthy volunteers were given anti-depressants. Two-thirds of the sample rated themselves as "better than well" as a result.

One chapter of the book is devoted to combating the "stereotype" of the pills produced in Brave New World, the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley in which people take the drug "soma", described by Huxley as having "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of the defects". Dr Walker argues that the pills he is proposing are intended as "mood-boosters, not as tranquillisers".

Another chapter addresses the "ethical objections". Dr Walker argues that it is "sheer fantasy" to argue that those taking the pills would become "emotionally one-dimensional", although he does suggest that "emotional blunting is not inherently bad".

He also rejects the idea that taking the pills would create "inauthentic" happiness, suggesting that something can be "artificial" but also "authentic".

Dr Walker also challenges the idea, explored in Huxley's novel, that humanity must choose between greater happiness and "the higher aspects of humanity". He argues that this is a "false dilemma", and that both are possible: "Happy-people pills do not always require us to choose between intrinsic benefits. Often, we can have it all. . .

"Even if suffering is necessary for the attainment of higher goods, it seems that most of us have a suboptimal amount of suffering."

Dr Walker said on Monday that his interactions had suggested that "religious people are as divided on the question as much as secular people." Those in favour of the medication argued that, "If we are God's children, given reason to improve our lot in the world, there should be no reason not to use it."


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