Tuesday December 12th 2017

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Why Are We Unhappy? 5 Ways to Get Happier in Addiction Recovery

Happiness is Possible

What if happiness was a practice instead of a state of mind?

Here, we take a look at why we – as humans – we tend to cultivate unhappiness. And we offer 5 practical ways that you can start to bring happiness into your life. A look at the theories behind human behaviour here. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.

Can We Undo Our Conditioning and Beliefs?

Psychologist Carl Jung posited the notion of the ‘collective unconscious’. His idea was that on a deep level, our minds are linked together by universal thought patterns. His notion seems a beginning of the idea that we, on some level, share the same mind: that we are all one, despite our apparent differences, and inclination to identify as a small and separate being.

Writers like Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra espouse the idea that we aren’t who we think we are. We aren’t our grades, our houses, or our jobs. We aren’t those things. Instead, we are an expression of love, of some universal power or God. That positive message is comforting but is it enough to undo a lifetime of conditioning?

Unhappiness Begins with Conditional Approval

As children, we are taught how to be ‘good’. In effect, the implicit lesson is that we are not innately so. We learn that approval is conditional, dependent on us:

  • cleaning up
  • being polite
  • getting good grades

That is not a criticism of our parents. In fact, the desire to communicate social codes and to teach is one born of love. The difficulty is that whilst fear might promote some learning, it also makes us neurotic and unhappy. As we grow up and adapt to the world around us, we become more and more focused on the negative.

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Traditional Psychology Looks at the Darkness

Much traditional psychology focuses on analysing the darkness of ourselves. We look at the present in a bid to reach a future filled with light, but when we focus on our maladaptive thoughts and behaviours, we tend to find rationales for them before we can leave them behind. Many spiritual/self-help writers today warn that constant focus on the darkness leads us further into darkness.

We get in life that which we focus on.

Focusing on the light will lead us into the light. Positive psychology focuses on the power and goodness that lies within us. We come to know ourselves as love, thereby increasing love in the world. That is the goal.

The Reason We Tend to be Negative? Survival

Our behaviour is motivated both negatively – creating a withdrawal response – and positively. When we are motivated positively, we recognise that something will be good for us and we change. Sometimes, both responses are triggered and we should weigh up which course of action is the best. At other times, this system malfunctions.

But why do we tend to focus on the negative? Some of this focus on the negative is to do with nature rather than nurture. The negativity bias, is the idea that, even when of equal intensity, negative feelings like fear and anger, have a greater impact on one’s psychological state than do neutral or positive ones

The reason for this apparently unfortunate trait is that it has been essential for survival. It is imperative that we respond urgently to threats. So, the reaction one would have to a snake crossing your path would be a much more visceral one than you would experience when looking at a peaceful, beautiful view – for good reason.

The Brain’s Way of Dealing with the Negative

One of the reasons that the withdrawal system grips us so definitely is that it gets first go at interpreting the information before it. All the neural impulses from our eyes and our ears travel first to the thalamus, which acts as a kind of sorting station. From there, neural impulses are sent to sensory processing central in the cortex…from there information is relayed to the frontal cortex and is integrated with the rest of mental processing faculties.

When you see a threat, then you could decide consciously to run away. But within those decision-making seconds it’s become too late, you’ve already been attacked. What we need then is a shortcut warning system for threats: that system comes in the form of the amygdala. The amygdala has a direct connection to the part of the brainstem that activates fight-or-flight response, bypassing all the decision-making nonsense. And if the amygdala should find us in a fear inducing situation that we have experienced before it recognises that and triggers an even more powerful response.

In sum, negative experience pops out at us more vividly than positive. But we can learn to recognise and linger of the positive We can counteract this weighting of importance by becoming more mindful of the positive and more adept at savouring positive feelings.

Negativity/Positivity Ratio

Positive Psychology scholar Barbara Fredrickson conducted research that defined an optimum level of positivity to negativity ratio as 3 to 1 in favour of positivity. Fredrickson 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, to be happy we must foster a broadened affective repertoire.

How can we put this into practice in addiction recovery?

5 Ways To Practice Being Happy In Addiction Recovery

1. Practice Metta/ Loving Kindness Meditation. Barbara Fredrickson has shown 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 and we don’t have to wait for a romantic relationship to become more loving and connected with others. You can practice fostering warmth and connection by connecting with anyone and everyone you encounter during your day. Emotions are shared experiences. Your positivity can ripple out from you, smiles are infectious .

3. Keep A Gratitude List. These things don’t have to be big of flashy, simple things – food in the fridge, a comfy bed, a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine.

4. Exercise. There are some great apps out there for people who have previously lead a sedentary lifestyle to start a programme of exercise in a manageable way. Just because you haven’t done it before, you can really change that. When your exercising your body will produce endorphins that give a great surge of positivity.

5. Help Someone Else. Again, this doesn’t have to be a massive deal, but you will feel better if you can help others, buy a sandwich for a homeless person, help at a shelter, or donate toys for charity.

Its eminently possible for you to shift your energy from a slump of negativity into the positive.

Give it a try.

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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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