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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
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Living La Vida 'Lorca'
Stress Fractures
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Spring 2005
Stress Fractures

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Stress Fractures
Americans are in ceaseless pursuit of the dream, but the gulf that separates us from the happiness we crave is widening. Peter Whybrow and UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute are trying to heal that rift

by Judy Lin
Illustration by Ken Orvidas

AMERICANS ARE LOSING IT. Living in chronic-stress mode, our days running 24/7, we are driven by an insatiable appetite for more — a bigger home, a faster car, a thinner cell phone, a sharper television, all that is new and different and exciting. All this new, more, better, bigger, faster, sooner, now, now, NOOOWWW is driving us to the edge. As a nation, we are more anxious, more depressed. Patterns of self-destructive behavior such as obesity and addiction are on the rise. Our communities are eroding; our leisure is evaporating. Even our children are suffering in this highly competitive world: Kids born since the 1970s are more apt than earlier generations to have anxiety disorders, depression and attention-deficit disorder, especially in affluent families.

But here’s what’s really interesting: “Americans’ restlessness and acquisitiveness are actually hard-wired into our brains,” says Peter C. Whybrow, director of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) and author of American Mania: When More is Not Enough (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). “What’s happening to us is entirely predictable — though not inevitable — if you understand the way in which neurobiology works.”

Human beings are still operating, Whybrow explains, with the needs-driven brain systems that evolved over eons so our ancestors could respond quickly to the demands of the environment in their day-to-day struggle for survival. Programmed to satisfy ancient hungers while living amidst 21st-century plentitude, we now find ourselves doing more and getting more, yet craving still more. And we call that the American Dream.


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