Finding happiness is challenging for anyone, and it may be especially challenging for someone recovering from addiction. Maintaining a positive attitude in recovery requires learning new skills and ways of thinking. On top of that, you have to learn to manage cravings and deal with life’s stress without resorting to old destructive coping mechanisms. Many people battle depression and anxiety early in recovery. The better you take care of yourself with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep, the better you will feel.
Ruminating is perhaps the habit that can swiftly bring on unnecessary misery. Rumination is when you get stuck in a loop, either criticizing yourself for something you did in the past or worrying about something that may happen in the future. It is a common feature of depression and anxiety disorders. It’s essentially a way of digging a rut of misery for yourself that gets harder and harder to escape. There are several ways to escape this rut. The simplest is to bring your attention to your environment. Listen to the sounds in the room, notice your breathing, or feel the temperature of the air. Your brain can’t ruminate and pay attention to the environment at the same time.
As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, comparison is the thief of joy. We naturally want to know how we’re doing, and we instinctively look around to others to gauge our success. However, this is an infallible way to make yourself miserable. Everyone has different strengths, backgrounds, and advantages. We aren’t always aware what advantages or obstacles other people have experienced. What’s more, we don’t know what goes on inside other people’s heads. You might look at someone at your 12-step meeting, for example, and think she has it all together. Then you wonder why you continue to struggle. However, you only see what she shows you. Comparing your inner life to her outer life is not a fair comparison and you are bound to be discouraged. This is even worse in the era of social media, where people only show you the best parts of their lives. The way to beat comparison is to make goals related to improvement and only compare yourself to yourself.
Complaining sabotages happiness in several ways. First, it naturally brings your attention to the negative parts of any situation. If you’re in the habit of looking for something to complain about, you may ignore the good stuff and fixate on what you don’t like. Second, complaining tacitly reinforces your own helplessness. If you can fix a problem, you fix it. If you can’t fix it, you complain. Third, it distances you from other people. While people may sometimes sympathize with your complaints, people are often turned off by negativity.
Thinking you can control everything is a huge impediment to happiness. For one thing, it’s simply impossible. Some things will happen that you can neither anticipate nor control. If you feel responsible for those things, you will always feel stressed and miserable. Also, trying to control other people is the fastest way to alienate them. You may occasionally succeed, but your efforts will breed resentment and people will avoid you. Life is unpredictable and we only really have control over most of our actions and some of our thoughts. This is why the serenity prayer has long been a fixture in 12-step meetings.
Competing is a more active form of comparison. It’s when you see someone else accomplish something and feel like you have to top it. It’s fine to be inspired by other people, or even to complete if the object is to challenge yourself to improve, but a competitive attitude can also be destructive in the context of recovery. Competing creates a rift between you and others and it reinforces your ego. It reduces the complexity of life to one–usually arbitrary–metric. You feel smug when you win and resentful when you lose. Cooperation is much better. Helping others, celebrating their successes, and generally realizing you’re all in the same boat will make you much happier than trying to outshine everyone.
We all like to get things–presents, favors, free dessert–but research shows that getting things doesn’t really make us happy, while giving really does. In fact, the more you take, the less happy you feel, while the more you give–up to a point–the happier you feel. Givers feel more connected to others and they feel a greater sense of fulfillment, especially if they volunteer for causes that matter to them. Although it sounds counterintuitive, doing something nice for someone else is the fastest way to make yourself happier.
Established in 1939, High Watch is the world’s first 12-Step treatment center. Every individual who walks through our doors joins a definitive culture of compassion, dignity, and respect from a genuinely caring staff dedicated to seeing the disease of addiction find remission. Providing proven therapeutic approaches and comprehensive 12-Step education, patients leave High Watch with the confidence to maintain abstinence and live a healthy, happy, sober life. Start your journey today by calling 860.927.3772.