In recovery, it’s common to encounter negative emotions as part of the healing process. Contrary to the misconception that such emotions indicate a problem, there is nothing “wrong” with feeling distressing emotions. In fact, all emotions are simply signals from the outside world to the brain that can reveal things about one’s circumstances. By embracing all emotions without allowing them to overpower rational thought, a person can gain a deeper understanding of themself and the world around them. They may also encounter revelations about distressing emotions that can lead to increased happiness later on.
The limbic system is a 40-million-year-old structure inside the brain that produces desires and emotions. However, the limbic system doesn’t have to control us. Emotions are related to tangible experiences and can be managed.
Some emotional self-management techniques include:
- Mindful reflection: View your emotions as if they were happening to someone else. React in a way that aligns with your desired outcome in social interactions.
- Emotion substitution: Replace the current emotion with one that is more appropriate for the situation. This helps in responding in a balanced and constructive manner.
- Emotional disregard: Choose to consciously disregard overpowering emotions. Shift towards an observational state rather than constantly fixating on them.
- Positive emotional bank: Cultivate a reserve of positive emotions and actions. Draw from this “bank” during moments of emotional challenge or stress.
- Cognitive understanding: Analyze and understand your emotions at a cognitive level. This involves recognizing the triggers, underlying causes, and potential impacts.
- Creating emotional space: Create mental space between your initial emotional reaction and your response. This allows for more thoughtful and deliberate actions.
As an individual begins to observe their emotions without allowing them to control them, they’ll gain more clarity about the balance of happiness. Distinct from emotions, happiness is a state of being that individuals can realize by gaining self-knowledge, changing habits that aren’t serving them, and sharing their light with others. In other words, happiness will come to a person if they do the work.
LEVERAGING NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
By reframing negative emotions from “shameful” or “bad” to crucial survival mechanisms that convey important information to help us navigate life, individuals can begin to harness adverse emotions to achieve happiness. Some ways to leverage unpleasant emotions include:
- Embracing challenges for growth: By turning obstacles into opportunities for personal development, you can access the transformative power of adversity.
- Sharing your experiences: Both painful and joyful experiences can be valuable sources of wisdom and connection. Imparting these experiences as well as any personal growth that came about as a result can offer opportunities for collective healing.
THE HAPPINESS FORMULA
There is no such thing as a static state of perfect happiness. Happiness is a direction, not a destination. The goal should be to be happier, which can be attained through enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning.
Pleasure is often mistaken as enjoyment. Pleasurable experiences, however, are immediately gratifying, short-lived, and don’t contribute to a sense of fulfillment or purpose. For instance, activities like eating delicious food and watching TV may provide momentary satisfaction without any lasting sense of well-being. Unsurprisingly, focusing on pleasure typically leads to addiction. Alternatively, enjoyment enhances pleasurable experiences by incorporating more meaningful elements such as enriching relationships, fond memories, and love.
Biological instincts drive humans to prioritize survival and reproduction over personal happiness, inclining us to ceaselessly accumulate material possessions. By deliberately choosing to want less instead of needing more, an individual can shift into a more contented perspective that is conducive to enduring satisfaction.
Faith, or the belief in something larger than oneself, can serve as a vital source of meaning in a person’s life. By recognizing one’s small part within the context of existence, a person can more easily access a sense of peace. As an individual accepts they aren’t the center of it all, tedious anxieties about their job, lunch, commute, finances, etc. become less mentally demanding, and their wider perspective infuses their life with more interest.
BUILDING A HAPPINESS PORTFOLIO
One strategy for achieving lasting happiness is creating a happiness portfolio and depositing into four key accounts every day: family, friends, service, and faith.
Connecting With Family and Friends
Maintaining healthy relationships is an essential part of a happiness portfolio. Strong social connections and meaningful interactions with others contribute significantly to overall well-being.
Prioritizing Service in Pursuit of Happiness
Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” With this mindset, moments of futility and tedium can be enriched with an act of love. For instance, a person might bring an unsolicited, fresh coffee to their office mate. As the individual continues performing random acts of kindness around their office, their job will become more interesting and their relationships with their coworkers will become richer.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service.” In other words, even when carrying out the most menial tasks, when approached with a mindset of serving others, the energy and impact of a person’s actions are revitalized for the benefit of both the individual and the community.
Faith Doesn’t Have to Mean Religion
Depositing into your faith account doesn’t have to mean joining a religion. A person may choose to:
- Study the Stoic philosophers
- Go on morning walks in nature, technology-free
- Adopt a meditation practice
- Study the compositions of Sebastian Bach
- Or, anything else that gives them a sense of the transcendent, or smallness
Although there are many challenges to happiness, by taking charge of one’s well-being through deliberate action and prioritizing happiness as a personal project, a person can achieve a lasting state of happiness. While facing the trials of life, individuals will understand their purpose and start to measure up in a way that makes them feel fully alive.
HAPPINESS THROUGH RECOVERY
Recovery offers the enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning that lead to lasting happiness. In recovery, individuals can meaningfully connect with others and rebuild their relationships, explore their interests and purposes, discover how to have fun in sobriety, enrich their lives with service, and embrace something bigger than themselves. If you’re struggling with substance use disorder, reach out.
Blog content based on the book, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier Kindle Edition by Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey