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Making the Choice to Be Happy in Your Recovery

Making the Choice to Be Happy in Your Recovery

Happiness is a strong weapon against self-defeating, addictive, habitual behavior

It might seem silly, but one of the most powerful emotional tools in your recovery toolbox could be simple happiness. While the physical and psychological process of recovery is a challenge to be sure, happiness is a matter of perspective. We tend to arrive at the point on the horizon on which we spend the most time focusing. Happiness indicates where your attention is. Being happy does not mean that you are unserious, flippant, or naïve. It simply means that you have developed a critical emotional skill that allows you to meditate on something other than your self and your pain. How can you make the choice to be happy in the midst of such a challenge? Therein lies one of the most important truths of recovery. It’s all about focus.

Happiness Is a Choice

Many people believe that happiness is an emotion that just happens. When things are going well, you feel good, your relationships are healthy, and you have enough money, you will be happy. The simple truth, however, is that happiness often has nothing to do with the absence of conflict or struggle. Some of the happiest people on earth are desperately poor and unwell. Likewise, many of the most miserable people in the world are wealthy, attractive, popular, and well liked. Anyone chasing happiness by accumulating material things is bound to be let down. One who knows how to choose happiness, however, can overcome nearly any obstacle that comes his way.

It might not seem that your emotional reactions to circumstances are choices, but they can be. The human brain manages emotions via an intricate and sensitive system of chemical signals and responses in a part of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain that is also called the “pleasure center.” Tiny bursts of “feel good” hormones and neurotransmitters are released during pleasurable experiences. The brain recognizes this pleasure and then builds behavioral neural pathways designed to reinforce the activity that caused it. This process is responsible for a wide range of critical human behaviors, including the following:

  • Sexual attraction and response and relational bonding
  • Appetite, eating, and satiation
  • Sleeping and waking
  • Impulse control and delayed gratification
  • Distress / pain tolerance
  • Anger response / rage

One of the primary purposes of this chemical system is to move certain behaviors from the conscious part of the brain to the subconscious part. This frees up critical decision-making power as it turns things like eating, sex, exercise, or hard work into habits. Unfortunately it can also turn unhealthy things such as risk-taking, self-harm, eating disorders, or rage into habits that can be extremely difficult to break. The entire process of addiction recovery, in fact, is an effort to undo harmful neural programming in the brain. The good news is that even though this emotional system is highly automated, it can be reigned in by an effort of will or choice. With practice you can learn how to choose happiness, even in the midst of significant pain and distress. Eventually your body chemistry will come into line with the choice you are making.

Happiness Is a Skill

While some people may seem naturally cheerful, the ability to truly be happy is a skill that anyone can develop. Like any skill, however, the ability to intentionally direct your emotions will only come as a result of hard work and discipline. Over time, with the right training and support, you can cultivate a set of emotional skills that may turn out to be of critical importance to your mental and physical health as well as the wellbeing of those around you. This will almost certainly include the following steps:

  • Recognizing emotional triggers
  • Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your emotional state
  • Developing the split-second ability to choose your emotional response
  • Learning to tolerate psychological or physical pain without seeking immediate relief through medication (including addictive substance use or compulsive behaviors)
  • Focusing your attention on the positive things in life even in the midst of pain

Like a finely tuned athlete swinging a bat at a 90 mph fastball, you can develop and cultivate incredible emotional skills. Like any skill, however, the ability to effectively manage your emotions will require training, coaching, practice, and experience.

Happiness Is Serious

Happiness is not some giggly bit of frivolity. Happiness is power. Happiness makes you virtually immune to the pain around you. Happiness is a strong weapon against self-defeating, addictive, habitual behavior. Happiness is peace of mind. It is rooted in self-awareness and self-discipline and it is reinforced or torn asunder by the people surrounding you. In some instances you might have to choose to be happy even when you don’t feel happy yet. This “fake it until you make it” approach might seem disingenuous at first glance, but in time your emotions will come into line with your decision and you will actually be happy.

When others notice your ability to remain happy in the midst of pain and struggle they might wonder what’s up. Your happiness may seem strange to some people for a time, but eventually they will come to you asking for your coaching on how you do it. Many addicts, though they have spent plenty of time partying and laughing, haven’t been truly happy in years. Your ability to master your own emotions might inspire them to grab their own emotional reigns.

24 Hour Recovery Helpline

If you or a loved one in Louisville would like more information about emotion regulation and happiness in the midst of recovery, please call our toll-free helpline right now. Our staff members are standing by with free, confidential, advice and access to the best treatment programs for your particular needs. Sure, recovery is a struggle, but as you experience the freedom and joy of healing you will see why so many in the midst of the process can remain so willfully happy. Call now.

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