America is sad. Not in the pejorative manner of President Trump’s “sad,” but in the more universal definition of unhappy, sorrowful, depressed, despondent, despairing, gloomy, melancholy, mournful, heartbroken — the adjectives go on and on that regretfully, capture the spreading malaise of today’s America.
Americans’ average life expectancy continues to drop — three straight years in a row. Unlike other periods when life expectancy has been driven down by influenza’s epidemics and the AIDS crisis, America’s sadness is driven by real sadness, often driven by the increasing nationwide crisis of drug overdose deaths and suicides.
Many parts of America’s heartland are hollowed out by sadness, reflected in the opiate crisis, with over-prescriptions to maximize drug company and the medical community’s profits, compounded by the flood of illegal drugs coming into America.
Contributing to our nation’s sadness is the phenomenal and growing number of veteran suicides. America’s heartland tends to be very patriotic, contributing more young men and women to the military than other areas; yet it is in the heartland that sadness reigns supreme.
Depressed people have real and serious problems, but sadness, pure and simple sadness, is “the” driving factor. Such sadness begets more and lasting sadness in the loved ones and families left behind left to pick up the pieces. It is a vicious cycle with no end in sight.
Montana is part of the heartland and has the additional Seasonal Afflictive Disorder, with the ironic acronym “SAD.” Many Montanans turn to self-medication by drinking to counter SAD; Montana has a well-deserved reputation as a “hard drinking” place.
Almost three quarters of Americans drink on a consistent basis; this number is probably higher for Montanans. Binge drinking is part of Montana’s heritage, celebrated in story and song. Talk to Montana’s first responders as to the role of alcohol in domestic problems and violence-related harm to others. Ask any Montana Highway Patrol officer and ambulance driver/EMT as to alcohol’s contributions to the carnage of America’s and Montana’s roads and highways.
Hard drinking causes a third of premature mortality of Americans (88,000 deaths) per year, reaching down to claim a tenth of working-age adults. Even at moderate levels, alcohol contributes to a number of cancers, including breast, collector, liver and esophagus
It is ironic that during the season of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,” the holidays always see a steep spike in sadness and correspondent abuses of illegal and legal drugs, alcohol and suicides, together with the spike of carnage on the highways and byways of America.
One of the simplest manners to keep America healthy and prosperous is to renew our commitment made in 1776, when as a nation and people we asserted our independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson, the author of “The Declaration of Independence” was an Epicurean. This philosophical doctrine recognizes that the pursuit of happiness means prosperity, thriving and well-being. It also includes autarchy, which means the importance of self-rule, self-sufficiency or freedom.
During this holiday season, may we recognize the simple but important words from our founders and as a nation, recognize the importance and true meaning of the importance of “the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness is not guaranteed — only the healthy pursuit of it.
Tom Muri is a 20-year veteran who battles depression. He retired from the Montana National Guard in 1996. In the Navy he served as an enlisted sailor during the Vietnam era, went to Montana State University and then law school, and then went back into the Navy as a JAG officer. He writes from Whitefish.