A new study suggests that taking a few minutes to engage in positive psychology exercises can significantly increase in-the-moment happiness in adults recovering from substance use disorders.
The findings are published online in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
“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 for those with substance use disorders,” said lead author Bettina B. Hoeppner, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute.
Through a randomized online survey, more than 500 adults who reported current or previous struggles with substance use were assigned one of five short, text-based exercises that took an average of four minutes to complete.
Participants reported the biggest increases in happiness after completing an exercise called “Reliving Happy Moments,” in which they chose one of their own photos that captured a happy moment and entered text describing what was happening in the picture.
An exercise called “Savoring,” in which respondents described two positive experiences they had encountered during the previous day, led to the next highest gains in happiness. This was followed by “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” in which they listed a highlight and a challenge of the preceding day and a pleasure they anticipated the following day.
In contrast, an exercise called “3 Hard Things,” in which participants wrote about challenges they had faced during the previous day, led to a significant decrease in happiness.
The researchers note that the ease of use and effectiveness of these positive psychology exercises suggest they may be promising tools for boosting happiness levels during treatment, which may help support long-term recovery.
“These findings underscore the importance of offsetting the challenges of recovery with positive experiences,” said Hoeppner, an associate professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“Recovery is hard, and for the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”
Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Source: Massachusetts General Hospital