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A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder

Oh hey, a PubMed article with the full text available.

It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.

This was published in a 1992 Journal of Medical Ethics.  It was obviously never taken up on by the overlords of the DSM-IV, published in 2000.  The guy who wrote it is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in the UK with a specialization in the psychotic aspects of mental illness.


So the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is scheduled for a republication (fifth edition) in May 2013, and there’s been a fair amount of media controversy about some of the changes, mostly around lower standards for addiction disorders.

I skimmed over the Proposed Changes part of the website that the APA set up for the new edition and didn’t find anything egregious. Etiology of a disorder doesn’t matter much beyond understanding how to fix it.  But how behaviors are treated by society do matter. (In my relativist opinion, psychologists know nothing about feelings, except for their own.  They only know behavior.*)

By changing a medical text of authority, I have a feeling it will lower stigma and help erase the false emotional/physical dichotomy model of symptoms that people, including mental health professionals, seem to acknowledge as a gauge for importance during treatment.  And these results would, uncontroversially, be a good thing.

*I’m using “know” here in a sort of vague, philosophical context.  I mean, we’re never going to have a better scale for pain, emotional or physical, beyond a subjective “Pick a number 1-10.”