I just noticed, via Yahoo’s lovely new RSS feeds (news.yahoo.com/rss), the results of a study (story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030827/ap_on_he_me/zoloft_children_5) showing that Zoloft (www.zoloft.com) helps to reduce depression in children.

According to the study, Zoloft—a mind altering drug—outperformed dummy pills by a whopping *10%* (yes, that was a subtle hint of sarcasm). This is significant, because in previous experiments with other drugs, anti-depressants proved to be no more effective in treating children than dummy pills.

For various reasons, I have had no choice over the past decade but to become a believer in the power of chemically driven mental disorders. So, I can’t with a clear conscience try to debunk Zoloft or any other anti-depressant as being a valueless fraud. I don’t, however, feel very comfortable with using them on children.

I’d like to see a study on the effects of teaching depressed children about how to take control of their emotions and achieve happiness through good old fashioned brainpower. Of course, I say this knowing it isn’t going to happen, because most of us adults know less about this topic than children.

Sad, isn’t it? The average american man can describe, in intimate detail, the forces behind success in football, or what makes a *really kickass* home theater system. But, most of us don’t spend any time or energy on the true pursuit of personal satisfaction and happiness. It’s probably because it doesn’t occur to us that real happiness 1) is attainable, 2) is not truly achievable via our jobs or possessions, 3) is something you actually have to make an effort for, and 4) improves with practice. We believe that the next promotion or that new house or the fancy new car or success in a sport will make us happy. But, what’s really happening is we’re treating the symptoms and allowing ourselves to travel through life with virtually no control over our emotions.

There are prescriptive methods that, when followed, can greatly increase one’s chances of living a happy and healthy life. I haven’t done any scientific experiments on children, so you’ll have to trust me on this. But, let’s start with a simple one. Don’t do crack cocaine. Don’t even try it. That probably sounds stupdily obvious, doesn’t it. Well, that’s OK. I’m trying to demonstrate a point:

If you’re not currently a crack abuser, you probably know intuitively that getting addicted to crack will not increase your happiness. It might increase your pleasure while you’re doing it (I hear it’s one of the best sensual feelings available on the planet). But, those of us with even the most basic cognitive ability seem to understand that crack is not a great stop on the road to happiness.

So, we probably agree that there is at least one basic rule to follow if you’re interested in being a happier person. Certainly not a complete list, and this one’s too specific to be very useful. But, I bet we can "refactor" it and abstract it up a few layers into a more general (but still singular and incomplete) rule for happiness.

The crack scenario could be generalized as follows: "Don’t follow potentially destructive urges simply because they bring temporary pleasure." And, "Beware of things that feel addictively good in the short term—they might be bad for your happiness in the long term." Pleasure != Happiness.

OK, so this is just as obvious. I’m guessing that most of the best rules will be. But, as with most things that are worth learning, the magic isn’t in the knowledge alone, but in how you put it into practice. This simple pleasure-rule is easy to understand, but hard to follow in every waking moment. It takes a lot of hard mental work and practice. For example, I can tell you now that pressing your left middle finger down when your hands are in position on a saxophone will produce the note "c", but that doesn’t mean you can now pick up a horn and make a nice sounding

  1. If you don’t already play, you probably won’t be able to make a

noise. The best things in life take hard work and practice. So, it stands to reason that the absolute *best thing* in life (the Goal, no?) would take a lot of practice.

As children, our minds—and even brains—are malleable, and we learn very quickly. And, the things that we learn in childhood stay with us throughout our lives. I’m afraid that if we teach children that they need drugs to stay happy and that they can let their thoughts be their masters instead of the other way around, it’s going to have a significantly negative impact on society. A nation of children raised in this evironment will create a new nation of children raised by parents who were raised this way, and so on and so on. How might this change the course of our evolution?