Excerpts from an article by Pascal Bruckner; cf. by the same author, Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of new techniques that improved agricultural production; it also saw new medicines—in particular, alkaloids and salicylic acid, an ancestor of aspirin whose curative and analgesic properties worked wonders.

Suddenly, this world was no longer condemned to be a vale of tears; man now had the power to reduce hunger, ameliorate illness, and better master his future. People stopped listening to those who justified suffering as the will of God. If I could relieve pain simply by ingesting some substance, there was no need to have recourse to prayer to feel better.