Happiness. I often wonder if most Americans these days are pursuing pleasure rather than happiness, seeking the momentary thrill and gratification instead of long-lasting happiness and joy. But persons with psychiatric brain disorders have great difficulty pursuing either pleasure or happiness. Anhedonia is a common symptom in schizophrenia and depression, depriving patients from experiencing enjoyable activities (ie, having fun) as they used to do before they got sick. Persons with anxiety have such emotional turmoil, it is hard for them to experience pleasure or happiness when feelings of impending doom permeates their souls. Persons with an addictive disorder are coerced to seek their substance for a momentary reward, only to spend a much longer time craving and seeking their substance of choice again and again. On the other end of the spectrum, for persons with mania, the excessive pursuit of high-risk pleasures can have grave consequences or embarrassment after they recover.
Happiness for patients with mental illness is possible only when they emerge from their illness and are “liberated” from the symptoms that disrupt their lives. As psychiatrists, we don’t just evaluate and treat patients with psychiatric illness—we restore their liberties and ability to pursue happiness and enjoy small pleasures.
The motto on the seal of the American University of Beirut, which I attended in my youth, is “That they may have life, and to have it abundantly.” As I have grown older and wiser, I have come to realize the true meaning of that motto. Life is a right we take for granted, but without it, we cannot exercise the various liberties, or be able to pursue happiness. I exercised my right to become a psychiatrist, and that provided me with lifelong happiness and satisfaction, especially when I prevent the loss of life of my patients, restore their liberty by ridding them of illness, and resurrect their ability to experience pleasure and pursue happiness.