I Want Happiness, So Give Me My Damned Wine!

happywineDespite news over the years concerning the positive health effects of drinking wine and the positive association wine drinking has with other healthful pursuits, the rage against alcohol from many quarters is constant. Entire organizations, associations and government agencies are founded for the purpose of reminding us how bad alcohol is and to getting us to drink none or less.

Recent reports have cast a shadow on the long-held belief that moderate consumption is good for you and in fact makes this kind of recommendation that will strike fear in the hears of moderate and responsible drinkers:

“The researchers conclude that reducing alcohol consumption across all levels of consumption – even light to moderate drinking – is beneficial for heart health.”

But as researchers have calculated that drinking less or no alcohol is better for us, I wonder if they have factored in the amount of pleasure that is lost if we stop drinking or even simply drink less.

Maybe they should. It turns out the Federal Government’s new set of tobacco regulations actually has attempted to quantify just how much pleasure  is lost when smoking is reduced or stopped. The New York Times describes the governments calculation this way:

“Buried deep in the federal government’s voluminous new tobacco regulations is a little-known cost-benefit calculation…: the happiness quotient. It assumes that the benefits from reducing smoking — fewer early deaths and diseases of the lungs and heart — have to be discounted by 70 percent to offset the loss in pleasure that smokers suffer when they give up their habit.”

Let’s bring this back to alcohol and wine since the calculus that goes into the issue of smoking seems pretty problematic to me. However, what about wine?

If it is true that I will increase my heart health by stopping all consumption of wine, how ought I balance this benefits against the benefit of  happiness I gain from gulping down wine here and there? More fundamentally, should the happiness I gain from drinking even be a factor in calculating the costs and benefits derived from drinking wine?

I don’t know. But I do have evidence that being happy is good for your health. In fact a recent study identified four things that led to happiness that in turn led to better health

• Emotional vitality: a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement

• Optimism: the perspective that good things will happen, and that one’s actions account for the good things that occur in life

• Supportive networks of family and friends

• Being good at “self-regulation,” i.e. bouncing back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again; choosing healthy behaviors such as physical activity and eating well; and avoiding risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, drinking alcohol to excess, and regular overeating

Surely that regular few glasses of wine during the week aid me in being engaged as it is a social lubricant, is certain proof that good things happen (at least when the wine is good), helps encourage my friends and family to stay close knowing I have a large supply of wine I’m willing to share, and assuming I don’t indulge to excess.

The fact is this: There is no question about it that among the vast majority of people who drink in moderation, real happiness and real pleasure is gained from that drinking. However, whether this happiness ought to be factor in any calculation of well-being should probably fall to philosophers of food and wine like Dwight Furrow and others of a similar philosophical and analytical bent who can make a better case than I can…which boils down to “I want happiness, now give me my damned wine!”

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13 Responses

  1. Dwight Furrow - August 7, 2014

    Hi Tom. Thanks for the mention! I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that discussions of health risks seldom mention loss of pleasure as a factor. As you note, it is widely known that happiness produces positive health outcomes. And while pleasure is not the whole of happiness it is an important component of it. I suppose the rationale for not figuring this in the equation is that pleasure is fungible–you can, it is assumed, easily replace one kind of pleasure with another one that is less risky. But when you love something, such as wine, I don’t think it is so easily replaceable.

    Furthermore, as you note, alcohol is especially important in “greasing the social wheels” and the refinement and complexity of wine (usually) encourages the kind of civilized behavior that leads to positive social interactions. Wine bars, tasting rooms, and wine-graced dinner tables are among the happiest places on earth.

    So whether wine turns out to have nutritional benefits or not is a bit of a distraction. It’s a bonus if it does but a good Pinot Noir needs no such justification.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - August 8, 2014

    Let’s not forget that some people derive a great deal of pleasure from moralizing, which means that we will likely never stop hearing from them.

  3. John Kelly - August 8, 2014

    The study you cited is utter bulls**t. I have no idea how such trash ever made it through peer review and into publication.

    The study involved individuals with the 1B variant of the gene for alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). People who express this gene get flushed and nauseated when they consume alcohol, and perhaps consequently report lower alcohol consumption than the general population. The ADH1B carriers also happen to present somewhat better cardiovascular health than the general population.

    The authors “conclude” that the health outcome in this population is the direct result of lower alcohol consumption, thereby demonstrating the very worst sort of confirmation bias.

    Jumping to this conclusion is so patently ridiculous that I may start screaming, after I quit banging my head on the table. ADH catalyzes so many more reactions in the body than metabolism of ethanol, including reactions involving sterols and fatty acids – compounds with far more well-established links to cardiovascular health than ethanol.

    The only valid conclusion from this study is that the ADH1B variant confers some cardiovascular benefit to individuals carrying the gene. It may do so directly, or this gene variant could very well be linked to a suite of gene variations, any one (or more) of which yields a population of individuals with slightly better cardiovascular health than the general population – across all levels of alcohol consumption.

  4. James Rego - August 8, 2014

    Such studies are valid today and become invalid tomorrow (vitamen E.ie.) Best take these with a grain of salt and enjoy your wine!

  5. Larry Dutra - August 8, 2014

    Reminds me of the joke: Doctor says if I keep drinking like this it will take 5 years off my life. That’s OK, it’s the five years I don’t want!

  6. Thomas Pellechia - August 8, 2014

    The best way to analyze the results of a study like this is to find out who sponsored it. Usually, a special interest or morality shop is behind it.

  7. David Millington - August 11, 2014

    The author supposes that you can’t be happy without alcohol and that alcohol is needed as a social lubricant. Both of these points are untrue. There are many people who have never drank, and many who have stopped for various reasons (not just alcoholism), who are very happy with their lives and find pleasure in other things. Life does go on! And there are many cultures who don’t need alcohol as a social lubricant. We wouldn’t all suddenly stop talking to each other without it! That said, enjoy your glass of wine, I wouldn’t take it from you by force!

  8. Tom WARK - August 11, 2014

    “The author supposes that you can’t be happy without alcohol and that alcohol is needed as a social lubricant”

    Let’s let the author speak for himself: the author supposes that alcohol can provide happiness and can be a social lubricant. There you go…fixed that for you.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - August 11, 2014

    Quelle horreur!

  10. Ian Dee - August 11, 2014

    What’s the difference between alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine or heroin for that matter. They all give some amount of pleasure/happiness.
    Also, is wine different to other alcohol for most people?

  11. Tom Wark - August 11, 2014

    “What’s the difference between alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine or heroin for that matter. They all give some amount of pleasure/happiness.”

    What’s the difference? Well, I find that a good Sauvignon Blanc (and this is just my opinion) goes better with oysters that cocaine.

  12. Ian Dee - August 12, 2014

    What’s the difference? Well, I find that a good Sauvignon Blanc (and this is just my opinion) goes better with oysters that cocaine.

    If only that was the way most people consumed alcohol there would be little problem. However, That’s trying to answer the two questions in one. Alcohol (not just wine, as alcohol was what the researchers tested) is addictive and harmful. It is also legal in many countries. The other drugs stated are much less likely to be legal or accepted. Probably an easier comparison might be morphine, ecstasy and amphetamines. Very comparable to alcohol in addiction and also give happiness.
    Most people who smoke tobacco want to give up so it’s easy to cut that out. The other drugs haven’t been around so long in most countries so it’s easier to keep out. Alcohol is very difficult for most governments to restrict because it is established and there are some big companies behind them. I would hate to see the alcohol industry follow the tobacco industry and lie about the harms it causes. Maybe the wine industry can differentiate itself from the rest of the alcohol industry by being more responsible for the harm side and let the rest of us enjoy the happiness side.
    This is a very important debate that governments will bring up more and more. Flavour, taste, food association and happiness is on the side of wine.

  13. Tom Wark - August 12, 2014

    “Alcohol (not just wine, as alcohol was what the researchers tested) is addictive and harmful.”

    Ian, what do you say we try to be precise. How about this: Alcohol can harmful when abused or not used in moderation….

    After all, the examples of those use drink alcohol and never have any problems far outnumber those who abuse alcohol and have problems as a result.

    “Probably an easier comparison might be morphine, ecstasy and amphetamines. Very comparable to alcohol in addiction and also give happiness.”

    Ian, when was the last time you came across someone who struggled to decide which brand or formula of morphine, ecstacy or amphetamines they ought to serve with the poached salmon? Do you truly not see the difference between wine and morphine?

    “Alcohol is very difficult for most governments to restrict because it is established and there are some big companies behind them.”

    The way wine is sold and regulated is restrictive in any number of ways. It’s not as though kids bringing it to school in their lunch pail of that the car manufacturers have found a way to build in a wine glass holder into automobiles.


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