Physiologic Superpowers: Happiness

Medicine should have a legit word for “superpower”.  After all, physiologic superpowers totally do exist – synesthesia, better than average eyesight, genetically stellar lipid levels – and I’d argue that “unreasonable levels of happiness” fits the superpower bill too.

I started thinking about this today when @USMCShrink tweeted a hilarious PubMed abstract – “A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder” – though I’m not 100% sure the original author meant it to be funny.  (I mean, it’s 5 pages long, in a legit journal, and cites 32 references without cracking a grin.  My sarcasm detector just isn’t up to that challenge.)

Either way, I totally believe that Chronic Happiness is a thing.  A syndrome, even – because people who are perpetually excited by such major events as “getting up in the morning” and “walking down a hallway” are eerily similar in a lot of other ways as well.

Basically, it’s permanent hypomania, without the sleep symptoms.  You’re just super-productive, charismatic, and hyper enough to be regularly asked “Um, so, what drugs are you on, exactly?”.  For your entire life.

My college roommate's hypomanic period: 24 years and counting.

These people are loved by all, easily hired, and really do love their lives – so despite the increased tendency to, say, befriend random mariachi bands – I’d call it a ‘superpower’ instead of a ‘disorder’.  (Partly because that’s awesome, and partly because it would mean guaranteed media coverage.)

Researching these people seems like it would be a killer way to open the door a bit wider on genetic causes of depression.  But to research them appropriately, you’d need a diagnosis and some criteria.  If I was in charge of the DSM (and let’s all take a moment to thank your Higher Power of choice that I am not), this is what the criteria for Idiopathic Happiness Syndrome would look like:

A.  A state of unreasonable, unwarranted happiness that persists for longer than 1 year,

B.  In an adult with no history of depression, dysthymia, or mania

B.  Exhibiting 2 or more of the following symptoms:

* Periodic outbursts of “I LOVE LIFE.  I’m sorry, I just had to say it – I love life!”

* Experiences visible anxiety or sadness when reminded that it is impossible to befriend the entire world.

* Tendency to sign emails “XOXOXOXOXO” in a fit of genuine desire to hug and kiss all 372 recipients.

* Irrational beliefs about how other people interact with strangers.  For example:

In conclusion: “Genetics” = cool, “Personality” = cool, “Superpowers” = extra-cool.  So  “Studying genetic personality superpowers” = Why the hell is this not the most popular research field ever?

Maybe because it just needs a catchy name.  So: Onward!  For science!

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9 thoughts on “Physiologic Superpowers: Happiness

  1. Hm… I’m not sure that the perpetually happy people are loved by all. They seemed kind of annoying by your description. I mean, if you’re friends with *everyone* how good a friend can you really be to anyone? But then, they’d probably call me cynical.

    • Ha, well, not loved by all, then. I do think they tend to do exceedingly well in their careers.
      … I wish I could point to research on that. But that’s why I think we should have criteria to study them, I guess.

      • They do well in their careers because they are good at kissing up. They always say “yes” to their bosses. People like that.

        I suppose it all depends on what your goals are. If your goals are to get promoted, maybe being a giant kiss ass is a good strategy. If your goals include making the best widget, then actually saying what you think even if it’s not popular may end up being the way to go.

        Which begs the question: is it more important to be liked or to be right?

        It takes both kinds of people for the world to run smoothly.

        • I think when you’re nice to people, they end up more likely to listen when you speak out about something they’re doing wrong. Granted, you have to learn that speaking out is okay – but I think it’s easier to learn that then it is to learn the quality of “genuinely liking everyone.” It’s just sort of a personality trait bonus that can’t be taught, I think. But we might be agreeing to disagree on that.

  2. “One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.” LOL!

  3. I’m pretty sure I got that because mine won’t go away but my mind races about injustice and things I cannot change. Specifically shitty people, cause and effect. I get pretty frustrated. And the whirl whirl whirl of thoughts when you aren’t enough to act on them all, drives you fucking insane. I used to smoke alot of pot because having the whole world inside of your head is too goddamn much when people are too goddamn stupid. I have never been a sad, angry, or violent person either. So I wouldn’t really call it “sheer happiness” all the time. I’m pretty light and have a consistent sense of humor, no matter what. But it is excrutianingly painful most of the time. Imagine if superman knew he was superman and nobody gave a shit. And when he started saying super shit, super stupid people felt confused or threatened, so he stayed super drunk alot.

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