In just 4 minutes a day you can boost your happiness and your recovery.
Sun salutations? Jumping jacks? Touching your toes? Just like physical fitness, it’s possible to train yourself psychologically with “happiness exercises.” According to a new study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Recovery Research Institute, using “happiness exercises” can promote long term recovery by making the journey more enjoyable.
According to The Harvard Gazette, lead author Bettina B. Hoeppner, senior research scientist at the institute and an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School said, “Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life. Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment.”
That means that a person in recovery can benefit from non-medical support. Even actions or behavioral changes that seem small or inconsequential can have major positive outcomes for people with substance disorder. Happiness exercises are an example of this kind of treatment protocol. Although some people pooh-pooh non traditional treatments, such as meditation, writing a gratitude list, or practicing yoga, there is scientific proof that these modalities have long-term positive effects on recovery.
The “happiness exercises” study, published online in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, is the first of its kind to test whether positive psychology exercises boost happiness in people recovering from substance use. Its co-authors are Hannah Carlon and Susanne Hoeppner of the Recovery Research Institute, and Melissa Schick, a University of Rhode Island graduate student. More than 500 people who are coping with addiction participated in the randomized, online survey. They each were assigned one of five psychology exercises that took an average of four minutes to complete.
The most effective exercise included in the study was a simple writing exercise. The study’s participants reported the greatest mood lift after completing this exercise: selecting a personal photo from a happy time they’d experienced, and then describing what’s happening in the photo.
According to The Harvard Gazette, other exercises helped boost happy feelings, too. An exercise in which participants noted two positive experiences from the previous day led to the next-highest gains in happiness, followed by one that had them list a highlight and a challenge from the day before and a pleasure anticipated the next day. Those who were asked to write only about challenges they had faced the previous day saw a dip in happiness.
This suggests that happiness is cumulative: a little bit of happiness can “roll over” into the next day, sustaining a person’s positive feelings and helping to give them an attitude of gratitude. Focusing on happy memories or accomplishments seems to be more effective than focusing on challenges or difficult times. However, in just four minutes a day, the recovery study’s participants noticed remarkable changes in their levels of happiness—and kept that feeling going, day after day.
Hoeppner said, “Recovery is hard. For the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”