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Happiness can bring unhappiness

dfishervan's picture

Charlotte inquires whether there is something broken or something really fixed with Thessa during her student conference with Mr. Stone. Stone and Candace initially focus on the first half of Charolette’s inquiry until Thomas Kurton’s article makes a splash and convinces the population that Thessa possesses something incredibly right. After learning about Thessa’s existence and the alleged scientific explanation for her condition, society concluded that they were the ones that needed to be fixed since their brief moments of happiness paled in comparison to Thessa’s euphoria. This notion of fixing the body’s natural state with scientific intervention reminded me of certain elements of Darwinian medicine. This approach to medicine views certain symptoms that inconvenience us such as anxiety, as having some sort of evolutionary advantage. For instance, in the ancient world, anxiety served as a response that helped us avoid predators. Today, anxiety still has some utility as it helps alert us to and protect us from certain modern day dangers by encouraging us to retreat and hide. Proponents of Darwinian psychology argue that depression also has similar evolutionary benefits.

Considering these insights provided by Darwinian medicine, it may not be to our advantage to eliminate anxiety and depression through the genetic manipulation that Kurton dreams of. Powers alludes to this at several points later on in his novel. When he describes the day that “the happiness gene” was discovered, he also mentions the other atrocious events that occurred on that day. As he lists all of the evils of that day, I felt concerned and saddened about their world’s current state of affairs. Once Powers lists that the day was the same one “the gene of happiness” was uncovered, I realized that if everyone possessed Thessa’s outlook on life, people wouldn’t be able to experience the same concern and anxiety necessary for appropriately handling and responding to less pleasant life events. During Thessa’s attempted suicide, Powers further emphasizes the problems with eliminating depression by equating her excessive happiness with a medical deficiency. While reacting to the suicide attempt, Stone realizes that Thessa has no antibodies to fight off darkness. The so-called problem science hopes to cure may just create another one.

The idea of something needing to be fixed also got me thinking about whether the experimental, unique style of the book itself was something that needs fixing or if there is something so right about it that makes authors of past books feel that their books need fixing. 

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