Not Feeling It? Top 10 Research-based Ways to Feel Happier in Recovery
Many in recovery are surprised to find that while emotions can come and go without warning, happiness takes effort. Like everything that is worth having, it is definitely a good idea to embrace that effort and do what you can to increase your happiness quotient – and at the same time improve your ability to stay sober. Here’s how.
- Go outside. Being out in the sunlight can increase your levels of Vitamin D, which can in turn boost your mood if you are struggling with depression as a result of having low levels of the vitamin. As few as 15 minutes of sun exposure a day can make a big difference. If you are not into the great outdoors, it may be that just taking the time to look at nature scenes may have a positive impact on your mood, or choosing to live near a green, less urban area can have positive mood effects as well.
- Get moving. Taking part in physical activities in your off-hours has been shown to have a positive effect on your happiness for the long-term. This may be due in part to the fact that antibodies are produced when you work out, which can help you to stay healthy when faced with virus or bacteria, and it may also be due to the endorphins – or “feel-good” chemicals – created. Getting high off exercise can help to reduce your urge to drink or use drugs. Take a walk or go for a jog.
- Go to sleep. Not getting enough sleep can not only cause you to have low energy and potentially be more susceptible to illness, but it can also decrease your happiness as well. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, so you more easily fall asleep at night and rise each morning. When you’re more rested, and feel physically and mentally better as a result, you will also be less likely to relapse.
- Get busy. Learning a new skill will serve to boost your happiness – and pretty much anything will do. Learn a new language, take a class on geology, join a book group reading French medieval poetry – whatever interests you will work to keep your mind engaged and increase your happiness. Plus, in recovery, learning a new skill can expand your horizons and point you in a new direction – one that can lead you away from a life defined by addiction and toward a life defined by something new and amazing.
- Be grateful. When you focus on what you are grateful for and spend less time dwelling on the things that you wish were different, you will feel happier and healthier. Practice gratitude in recovery by writing thank you notes, by sending flowers or otherwise marking a kind gesture from someone by letting them know that you are glad they are doing what they do, or by keeping a gratitude journal where you list all the things you have to be thankful for. Even writing a single sentence each day about what you are thankful for in recovery can increase your sense of contentment.
- Be nice. Once you have acknowledged all the things you have to be grateful for, it may be easier to give back to others. One study found that when one person is happy, it can increase the happiness of their friends – and their friends’ friends. When you choose positive people to be friends with, it can increase your happiness with life and your ability to remain focused on working through the tough times until you again come out on the other side.
- Let go. It is natural to have responses to unexpected changes or challenges that are emotional in nature. Anger, sadness, and frustration – all these can be a kneejerk response, but they do not have to be the response you stick with for any length of time. Though it is a skill that can take time and practice to master, learning how to let go of resentment can boost your happiness and help you to lower your overall level of negativity and stress.
- Eat well. Healthy eating has a number of positive effects, all of which contribute to your ability to stay sober. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and cutting back on fried foods and sugar will help you to maintain a healthy weight, which will in turn contribute to a lesser experience of aches and pains, help you sleep better, and improve your mood. All of these benefits will serve to lower your stress levels and help you to remember your coping skills when faced with acute stressors
- Do yoga. No matter what kind of yoga you choose – from a slow meditative practice to rapid-paced hot yoga – there are physical and mental health benefits that can improve your everyday quality of life and the quality of your experience in sobriety. Though daily practice will help you achieve the most benefits, even a one-hour class once a week or free yoga videos on YouTube whenever you have time will help you to build strength, balance, and flexibility – literally and figuratively.
- Be positive. When you make a concerted effort to stay positive and upbeat, you can stay focused on the things that bring you happiness, work toward your goals, stay connected with other people, and connect with your recovery. While blind optimism isn’t the goal necessarily – in fact, inauthentic cheer is not going to do much for you – making a concerted effort to dwell on the good things in your life rather than focusing on the negative can improve your quality of life and your experience in sobriety.