Happiness from Four Perspectives


AA/12 Step, CBT, Motivational Enhancement, Psychotherapy

Happiness can be understood differently from different perspectives of substance abuse treatment.


Happiness as the Goal in Recovery

The goal for most people who give up an addiction will be for them to reach a state of happiness. Initially the individual may be happy just to have the pain of their addiction cease, but in order to stay on the sober path they will usually want more. It is often said that recovery is a process and not an event. This refers to the idea that giving up alcohol or drugs may make the pain stop, but it is probably not enough by itself to lead to happiness. In other words the individual will have more work to do if they wish to achieve this. The different paths that people take in recovery can be viewed as different routes to happiness.

Defining Happiness

Happiness is something that most people claim to be looking for in life. It is one of the most commonly used words in the English language yet there is no clear idea to what it is actually referring to. This is because the word happiness is highly subjective. The most usually way to define happiness would be to say that it is a state of well being and contentment. It can also be described as possession or attainment of what would be considered good. It can be difficult to pin happiness down exactly and this is why the different recovery paths have slightly different understandings of what the word means.

Happiness in AA/12 Steps

The ultimate aim of the 12 step program is for the individual to experience a spiritual awakening. What is being referred to here is not really some supernatural event but instead means that the individual has managed to completely turn their life around so that they are now living a good life – to family and friends this may indeed appear like a miracle. The 12 steps can be viewed as a journey to lasting happiness. The Big Book describes how those who follow this path will experience a new freedom and a new happiness on page 83 – How it Works. This refers to the development of serenity which is probably the most lasting form of happiness that any human can achieve. Serenity does not mean walking around full of bliss all the time, but it does mean that the individual enjoys an almost constant experience of inner peace no matter what is happening externally.

Happiness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy uses oral communications to solve problems related to dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and cognitions. It is based on the idea that the way people act and feel is a result of their thinking. This means that by changing the way they think it will be possible to eliminate undesirable behavior and negative emotions. According to this approach happiness is achieved by the elimination of dysfunctional behaviors, thinking and emotions – it is the absence of these that would be viewed as happiness within the CBT approach.

Happiness and Motivational Enhancement

Motivational enhancement therapy uses motivational interviewing to encourage clients to transform any undesirable behavior. It works be addressing the individual’s ambivalence towards addiction recovery in a non confrontational way. This means that the individual finds within themselves the motivation to give up alcohol or drugs. They can then once again take charge of their own life and move in a more positive direction. From this perspective happiness is viewed as having vision and focus in life. It is the purposeful seeking of positive goals that gives life its real value and leads to happiness.

Happiness and Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy refers to a number of different techniques that aim to increase the individual’s own sense of well being. It does this by helping people develop a greater understanding of their own motives, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions. It is the hidden things in the individual’s inner world that can be the source of their unhappiness. From this perspective happiness occurs when those negative things become visible so that they can be dealt with. Each human creates their own personal narrative, and if this contains too much negativity it can lead to suffering.

How to Achieve Happiness in Recovery from Addiction

The different treatment options available to people in recovery use various interpretations of what happiness means and how it is achieved. The one thing that all of these approaches agree upon that it is possible for each individual to create happiness for themselves – although they may need some assistance to maximize their efforts. Other ideas for how people can achieve happiness in recovery include:

  • Keeping away from mind altering chemicals is vital for people in recovery who want to achieve real happiness. Those who relapse back to their addiction are right back on the downward circle to misery.
  • Maintain a positive outlook on life. If people are always expecting the worse to happen it saps their motivation, and they can create self-fulfilling prophesies.
  • Spend plenty of time with friends and family. The biggest regret that people have on their deathbed is not spending more time with their loved ones – very few people regret not making more money.
  • Helping other people is probably the most powerful way for the individual to develop happiness. These demonstrations of compassion benefits everyone in the transaction – in many instances the person offering the help will benefit the most.
  • Spend time with positive, happy, and successful people. Humans are highly influenced by those they spend their time with – peer pressure can be positive as well as negative.
  • Let go of anger, hatred, and resentment. These negative emotions are highly self destructive and prevent people from ever achieving happiness in life.
  • It has been suggested that smiling frequently (even when people do not feel like smiling) increases happiness. This is why in 12 Step groups they will often advise newcomers to fake it to make it.
  • Happiness is not achieved by obtaining things but by people being satisfied with what they already have. Those who put conditions on their inner feelings of well-being are preventing themselves from being happy now – for example, they say they will be satisfied when they own a fancy car.
  • Those individuals who have a balanced life are more likely to find happiness than those who just focus on one aspect. The key to success is to have a good mix of interests that includes things that are physical, mental, and spiritual.
  • If people lack meaning and purpose in their life it can be extremely difficult for them to achieve any type of happiness. Everybody will have their own idea of what gives life meaning – for some it may be spiritual pursuits while for others it could be their friendships.
  • Dogmatism and narrow-mindedness can get in the way of finding peace in life. The best way to approach life is with a beginner’s mind so that current beliefs and opinions do not stop the individual from learning new things.
  • The only time that people have is right now. Those who are always thinking about the past or worrying about the future will miss out on their life.
  • Techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help people develop the ability to live in the present moment.
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