Don’t Worry, Be Happy !

Although it was a major issue very recently, I suspect that many people have already forgotten about the infamous “Facebook experiment”, which does sound like something out of a 1950s B movie. The purpose of the experiment was to see whether small alterations in a person’s newsfeed could affect their mood. The conclusion of the study was yes, positive leaning newsfeeds could positively affect people’s moods.

This was considered a terrible abuse of Facebook’s power, proving to some that we allow ourselves to be manipulated far too easily. What if Facebook subtly encouraged us to buy certain products or services? Well, actually it does, and it is not at all subtle – it is called advertising, and it is what pays the bills at Facebook, so that we can have the service for “free”.

The use of mood modifying medication has skyrocketed ever since such medications were introduced to the public. The prevalence of ADHD is apparently much higher than it should be, according to quite a number of psychological experts. Quite simply, if a person can take a pill to make them feel better, why not? If this pill made a person a better worker, a better spouse, a better parent – who would turn this down, even if they were given the option to say no.

There was a recent movie called “Limitless” which asked these questions in a very realistic way. And despite the Hollywood way in which it was handled, it really did make you ask yourself – would you give such a mind enhancing, side effect free, medication (as depicted in the movie) to your children.

The argument against using such medications is twofold. Firstly, a person has to make a conscious choice to use the medication. Advertising on Facebook is clearly advertising and you can choose to ignore it.  But if someone slips you a pill or someone subconsciously alters your mood, you have been denied that free choice, and that’s the difference. The second argument against putting mood modifiers in the water or on our web pagesin, is that problems like ADHD are actual diagnoses. A person with ADHD has a brain chemistry issue that limits them from performing like everyone else. Interestingly, I have definitely heard the argument that people with ADHD might do better at certain jobs that require repeated short bursts of intense focus. So, having such an issue could be a benefit, rather than a disadvantage. Nevertheless, ADHD is considered a legitimate reason to treat a child with medication.

Let’s address the first argument, specifically in regards to Facebook. Let’s say, I choose to click a button on the Facebook interface, that indicates that I allow Facebook to purposely modify all of my newsfeeds and even updates from friends, such that negative words never appear. At the very least, these negative words would be replaced with much more positive words. I might make this choice when I’m 20, but it would still be in effect when I’m 30 and 40 and beyond. But I still made the choice once. I suspect that Facebook could slip this by all of us by including it in a whole list of new features that it offers. I am just as guilty as everybody else of clicking “yes to all” to get past an introductory screen. For all I know, I’ve already clicked the option and my Facebook page is already heavily modified. So, “choice” can be very subtle and perhaps even effectively irreversible.

The second argument has to do with the definition of disease. If a person has a particularly weak arm, is that a disease? If the weakness that this person has makes him or her from the weakest people in the world, is that now a disease? Or perhaps, people would prefer the term “condition”. We, as a public, constantly decide what we consider to be within the normal range. Would a deaf person ever refuse to hear? Would a blind person ever refuse to see? Someone, somewhere decides what constitutes a disease or condition. All that is needed is for that someone to decide that “reduced mood” is a condition, if not an all-out disease. All it takes is for a few neuropsychiatrists to show PET-CTs of people with “reduced mode”, and to demonstrate how these people have “abnormal” brain chemistry or function. Once that’s done, there is now a market for a pill or other treatment to fix this abnormality.

Yes, the day may come when being average is considered a disease. More so, it will be considered a disease that can be treated with medications and with Facebook updates that constantly encourage a happier and more productive mood. And because lawyers will still exist in the decades to come, somewhere at some point in people’s lives, they will be asked to check a box that says “yes, I want to be treated for my low mood (even if I don’t presently have a low mood”. And when the day comes that all the lawyers have checked this box, who will fight against this trend?

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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