Thoughts on Happiness: The Solving vs. Coping Debate

by phil on Sunday Nov 2, 2008 3:40 PM

I think I might have found some language configurations to make clearer the "solving v. coping" debate. This is the issue that I think is central to the anti-depressants controversies: Do anti-depressants cure diseases? Or do they help you cope with diseases? Or do they just mask and postpone ill?

Even if you never have to consider anti-depressants, I think we confront this issue every day. When you have a bad day, what should you do? Should you soak in the hot tub with a bottle of wine? Should you engage in positive thinking? Or should you sit down and write in a journal about why your day was bad and figure out how to prevent it from happening again?

I think everybody has their own pattern of responses, and probably most people do moderate amounts of both. If they have a bad day, they turn on the TV a little to drown out the pain, and then maybe complain a little to a loved one. It makes the rest of the day go by more easily, and by complaining daily, they may eventually accumulate some sort of wisdom of what needs to be done to fix their bad days.

Personally, my attitude in the past has been very light on coping. I'd sometimes willfully abstain from coping, perhaps out of a Catholic guilt instilled in my youth. I have been more of the, "when I have a bad day, I should analyze the day, figure out what made it so bad, and figure out how to prevent those days from happening again." When I had headaches, I'd never take advil. Nowadays, however, I'm more moderate, mixing coping with solving.

Here's a simple Roarsarch test for where you stand on the "coping v. solving" debate. There is a technique called "smile therapy." This basically espouses that you should, every day, spend some amount of time forcing yourself to smile. The process of doing so actually releases neurotransmitters in your brain related to the same kind of joy that would make you smile in the first place. Now, after knowing about this, are you going to do it? Why not? Isn't it everybody's goal to be happy?

Some people will naturally shake their head, objecting that "smile therapy" is faking happiness. That's a valid complaint, but then again you have to wonder which of your habitual coping mechanisms are faking happiness or authentic happiness.

Some people would immediately embrace "smile therapy," thinking it's an all-natural way to find happiness. But then again, what if you're in an oppressive marriage that you need to get out of, you probably shouldn't be using smile therapy to keep yourself in it.

The obvious language is "coping with problems" vs. "solving problems." But I want to go one step deeper so that we can effectively tease out the controversies I mentioned about anti-depressants. I want to float the idea of "causative redress" and "symptomatic redress."

So here's how the new terminology applies:
- Responses to a negative stimulus can generally be labeled as attempts at "causative redress" or "symptomatic redress."
- "Causative redress" is an attempt to handle what is causing the problem. For example, if you failed a test and became sad, a causative redress would be to come up with a plan for how you're going to do better next time.
- "Symptomatic redress" is an attempt, as its name suggests, to deal with the symptoms. For example, if you failed a test and became sad, a symptomatic redress would be doing exercise to relieve stress.
- Some kinds of redress are both causative and symptomatic. For example, therapists argue that taking anti-depressants helps retrain your brain to behave more positively, which in of itself, helps you fix problems in your life.

And finally, where I think the language comes together is in the form of a rule:

- You should only apply so much symptomatic redress that it doesn't obscure or mask the opportunity for a causative redress. For example, if your marriage is falling apart, you shouldn't be drinking every night to mask away the pain, that's escapism. Instead, maybe a nice jog into the wildnerness will both relieve stress and help clear up your mind for positive solutions. Or maybe going to a religious service will give you a soft meditative high while also helping you reflect.

Creative Commons License