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Positive Psychology in Addiction Recovery: How You Can Foster Happiness

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology, especially as it relates to addiction recovery. Rather than focusing on the pain of mental illness, the science behind positive psychology has sought to understand what it is that fosters well-being and happiness. So, the emphasis is on studying mental wellness rather than illness.

There have been great strides made in quantifying which behaviors and attitudes foster feelings like, serenity, love, joy fulfillment and peace. How can you practice this in your own addiction recovery?

Here, we’ll review the meaning behind the medical terms…and dig into how Positive Psychology can help you. Then, we review “3 Simple Ways to Practice Positive Psychology.” Finally, we invite your feedback or questions at the end. We welcome your comments…and try to respond to all real-life questions with a personal response.

What is Addiction?

Addiction could be defined as chronic compulsive behavior despite negative consequences. Those who abuse substances (particularly opiates or cocaine) are four to ten times more likely than the general population to have a gambling problem. From this, we discern that addictions go together, substitute for one another, and reinforce one another.

Addiction impacts a person’s life in myriad ways. There are financial costs including lost income, debt, and lower productivity at work, . Plus, there is often a wider cost to society that lays into public health budget. But there is also a human cost of addiction in the mental and emotional consequences for the individual, and for those around them.

If we can agree that addiction is an attempt on the part of the addict to fix their feelings, it becomes apparent that the addict lacks the skills needed to produce necessary positive emotions. There is also a well-documented link between social deprivation and social and economic marginalization, with a whole host of negative conditions including addictions.

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How then does the recovering addict build a happiness repertoire?

This is the question that many recovering addicts face, without the dubious crutch of the substances, how can the newly sober addict learn to access a positive repertoire of emotions like:

  • Inspiration
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Pride
  • Serenity

Positive Psychology suggests that it is eminently possible to build on your ability to feel happiness, love, and serenity. Here are some of the main concepts.

Positive Emotions Open Us Up

Positive emotions are necessary for our survival. Positive emotions improve our physical well-being, our overall mental health, and our lives in general – especially our relationships and our work. In fact, feelings of gratitude, affection, and joy help to build relationships with others and to engage creatively with life. When we feel something positive, we open up. Our horizons broaden, and so our lives have the potential to get better.

The Negativity Bias = Self-Sabotage

The other side of this coin is that if we are preoccupied with negative emotions, fear of relapse, or anger about the things which have happened to us, our thinking constricts. When we focus on the thing that is threatening our well-being, we become closed to the light of new ideas and relationships. This process is known as the “negativity bias.”

The negativity bias, also known as the “negativity effect”, refers to the notion that even when of equal intensity, negative feelings – like fear and anger – have a greater impact on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral and even positive things.

There is good reason for this rather distressing trait – it has been essential for survival as a species that we respond harder and faster to perceived threats. So, how do we reverse the habit to tend toward negativity?

To feel happy, we need to be able to counteract this weighting of importance by becoming more mindful of the positive and more adept at practicing behaviors which foster positive feelings.

Positivity/Negativity Ratio

Positive Psychology scholar Barbara Friedrickson conducted research that defined an optimum level of positivity to negativity ratio as 3 to 1 in favor of positivity. Friedrickson posted that this ratio would lead people to achieve optimal levels of well-being and resilience.

Whilst the exact ratio is debatable, the premise is still valid. For addicts to recover happily, rather than ‘white-knuckling’ it through a painful abstinence it is important that they develop a healthy affective repertoire.

Positive Emotions in the Recovery Process

Through addiction treatment, and the ongoing recovery process, much focus is placed on interpersonal relationships – and rightly so. Interpersonal groups and working on personal relationships help those who had hitherto been locked inside their own personal, chemical reality. How do we get out of the cage? By connecting with others!

People in recovery are given the opportunity to both receive and provide moments of acceptance and love, the non-chemically induced kind. And not the exclusive, romantic sort of love. In fact, you do not need to have a ‘significant other’ in order for your life to be full love.

Through the fellowship found in therapeutic communities/rehab clinics and in ‘self-help’ communities like SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous, addicts can share their experiences. By doing so, they connect to and invest in each other’s well-being. This kind of real connection brings mutual empathy and compassion. The result?

Joy.

Inspiration.

Serenity.

All of the things you’ve been searching for in the past!

Through real moments of connection, bonds are created and friendships are formed. The presence of fellowship provides the opportunity for caring for one another and so the ability to develop the ability to experience more and more positive emotions. A large emphasis is placed on gratitude and the shift of focus from the negative in one’s life to the positive. In this way, gratitude is an opening emotion that allows us to feel pleased and joyful with our situation and to simultaneously feel the desire to repay the kindnesses of others.

3 Simple Ways to Practice Positive Psychology

1. Practice loving kindness meditation – There is significant evidence that practicing loving kindness meditation can help develop your ability to foster warmth and love.

2. Connect with others – Having feelings of love and connection to others is an important part of feeling happy. However, we don’t have to wait until we have “The One” person in our lives. You can practice fostering warmth and connection by connecting with peers, friends and even strangers. Try making eye contact and smiling at cashiers. Thank people for the services they are providing for you. Even the smallest moment of love and appreciation is working out your ability to feel positive.

3. Keep a gratitude list – Tather than focusing on the pain of the past or worries for the future, begin your day by writing a list of 5 things that you are currently grateful for. These can be small things like having a comfy bed and food in the fridge. This practice will help flip your mindset out of the habit of negativity.

Working Out Your Happiness

Practicing Positive Psychology works in much the same way as going to the gym – as working out your arms builds muscle memory so working out your happiness builds neurological memory. Thus, happiness becomes something which is easier and easier to experience. You can ‘work-out’ your ability to be loving, happy and grateful.

Got Something to Share About Happiness?

Please leave us a comment in the section below. We love hearing from our readers. Your ideas, feedback, and positive thinking are welcomed.

Leave a Reply

One Response to “Positive Psychology in Addiction Recovery: How You Can Foster Happiness
Patrice
5:00 pm June 19th, 2017

Good article. I like the way you included and explained negativity bias.

About Jason Shiers, Dip. Psych TA, MBACP

Jason Shiers, Dip Psych, MBACP is a Transactional Analysis Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, and Head of Digital for https://www.addictionhelper.com and https://www.ukat.co.uk. Jason has been helping people with all types of addictions for 23 years. He practices holistically calling on various modalities including, psychotherapy, 12 steps, mindfulness, energy and meditation to help people empower themselves to make positive change in their lives.

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