Psychedelic medicines are on the verge of changing psychiatric medicine. They effectively rewrite the brain when used to treat conditions like depression, substance abuse disorders, chronic anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. So psychedelics are effective in improving mood disorders like depression but do psychedelics make you happier? Despite there having been lots of research into the treatment of depression and other conditions there isn’t all that much in regard to the happiness question. Part of this is because not being all that happy is not a specific psychiatric condition that researchers are studying while conditions like PTSD and depression which are risk factors for suicide are being studied.
What Is Happiness?
One might think of happiness as the opposite side of sadness and depression. The various aspects of happiness include joy, fulfillment, contentment, and satisfaction. Happiness can result from a specific event or situation and be transitory. People may also say that they are happy with their life when they have found success and are generally pleased with how things are going. Happiness is a way we feel about what is going on around us and our life in general. A psychiatrist will often say that happiness is subjective well-being.
Does Treating Depression Make You Happy?
If happiness is the flip side of depression, then successful treatment of depression should result in happiness. Or should it? A person who has recovered from a bout of depression may say they are happy to be feeling better. But their degree of happiness may or may not compare to someone who is positively joyful with their life. In theory we should be able to evaluate this premise as there is a lot of research into the treatment of depression. However, folks who get psychedelic medicines as adjunctive treatment for depression are severely depressed. They are treated and then assessed to see if they have gotten better, which they generally have. These assessments do not include their degree of happiness, satisfaction with life, contentment, or sense of fulfillment. It could but that is generally not the purpose of the studies done to see if psychedelics work in treating depression.
Length of Follow Up When Treating Depression
When a person is depressed and gets treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist, takes psychedelics and goes through coaching sessions, they receive follow-up care until they are better. At that point they are told to come back if and when there is a problem. Research studies may check back in a year or two but will not generally do yearly follow-ups. When they do follow up the researchers are asking if the person is depressed and not if they are happy, contented, fulfilled, or pleased with their lives.
Psychedelics When a Person Is Already Happy
A person does not need to be severely depressed or suffering from PTSD to use psychedelics. Are these medicines useful in people without specific illnesses? An argument in this regard is that while a person with heart disease may be told to improve their diet and get some exercise, an improved diet and more exercise can help anyone. What do psychedelics do that might make all of us happier?
Psychedelics can help improve relationships by increasing openness, tolerance, and appreciation of the views and values of others. Altruism is commonly increased in people who have used psychedelics. Studies have demonstrated an increased ability to forgive others, greater compassion, a sense of openness and unity, and more empathy in people who have used psychedelics. The feelings of social connectedness that are helpful in the treatment of conditions like depression are also engendered in those who are not depressed but use psychedelics. All of this leads to a better sense of well-being, contentment, and happiness.
Taking Psychedelics Can Result in Positive Habits
The improvement in neural plasticity seen in those who have taken psychedelic medicines can lead to life changes that in turn lead to greater happiness. The improvement in neural plasticity can lead to greater mindfulness, the taking on of new habits and behaviors, and a healthier lifestyle. These changes commonly crowd out bad habits and lead to a healthier and more successful life. While the rewiring of the brain seen in research studies of psychedelics may only last for months, the changes in lifestyle and positive habits have been shown to last for years or decades.