[2/10/20] – Pathological Happiness

No, it’s not just you. We’re all feeling the pain of the gloomy days of winter. Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) impacts millions of Americans ever year when the days get shorter and drearier. Last week, Chicago ended its 9 day stretch without sun when, for a brief moment, the sun broke through the clouds, only to be consumed once again. Urban environments are notoriously stressful places to grow and thrive, and when you add something like SAD to the mix obstacles can become substantially more challenging to overcome. It is also interesting to consider the short life of SAD, relatively speaking. Conditions that impair one’s ability to successfully navigate American society according to the social scripts are becoming increasingly medicalized. Deviance, then, becomes something that can be medically addressed. In this week’s Lecture Spark, we explore the medicalization of deviance, social scripts, and the economic functions of SAD.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Pathological Happiness

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how SAD influences our social behaviors and interactions.

LO2: Discuss the social impact of the medicalization of SAD and the pathology of happiness.

LO3: Explain how socialization can influence the degree to which a person agrees or disagrees with the existence of SAD.


How to fight off the ‘winter blues’

ABC News’ Dr. Jennifer Ashton shares what to know about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and how people can feel better during dark winter months.

Symptoms of seasonal depression and how to overcome it

Michigan hasn’t seen a brutal winter season, but the gloomy days could still leave you feeling down in the dumps. For others, it can be more serious and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder

Too many gray days can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Discussion Questions

How does redefining a deviant condition as something that can be treated using medicine change the social construction of the deviant condition? Why might some conditions be more likely to be medicalized than others? Give an example.

From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, what social scripts exist for people living with SAD in the workplace, at school, with their friends and family, etc.? How might dealing with SAD create opportunities for new interactions to occur? Of what value, if any, is supportive human interaction for someone dealing with SAD?

From a functionalist perspective, who benefits the most from the existence of SAD as a medical condition? How might being able to see medical assistance for dealing with SAD stabilize society? Why might low mood be viewed as dysfunctional in society, thus forcing people to consider their sadness to be a medical issue they need to seek treatment for? What is the function of pathological happiness?

What is the relationship between weather and mood? What might sociologists find interesting about the rates of murders in the summer or overdoses in the winter? What social factors and institutions would like likely correlate with these trends? Why?

Why might some be reluctant to identify themselves as someone who is dealing with SAD? How might a diagnosis change their perception of self? How might a diagnosis influence the way they interpret the interactions they have with others? Why might an individual be averse to engaging in mental health counseling or therapy?


A symbolic-interactionist theorist would be most interested in which of the following topics related to SAD?
a. How hospitals bill patients for services related to SAD.
b. Why women might be more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men.
c. Social factors influence the doctor-patient interaction when being diagnosed with SAD.
d. Functions of governmental policy related to SAD.

Medicalization of SAD, as a social process, does all of the following except:
a. Establish norms regarding interactions with people dealing with SAD
b. Create a pathway to treatment for people dealing with SAD
c. Define cultural meanings of people, places, and things related to SAD
d. Regulate the price of SAD therapy

A _______ view of mental illness explains SAD through assuming the physiological conditions of patients are dominant whereas a _______ view of mental illness assumes SAD is most significantly influenced through external community and environmental factors.
a. biological; socio-behavioral
b. tangible; intangible
c. deviant; subculture
d. moral; immoral

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/BenAkiba

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