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6 Ways Pets Help Boost Your Happiness

A young man playing with his dog outdoors.

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Happiness is essential to a fulfilling life. Want happiness? A pet might help. If you are one of the millions of pet owners around the country, you probably cannot imagine life without your animal companion.  Pets have been shown to help increase health and happiness. Furthermore, studies show the more time you spend with your furry friend, the better you feel.

Check out the six science-backed ways pets boost your happiness. Perhaps this article will make you want to add a furry friend(s) in your home.

  1. Pets offer a comforting presence.

Having a pet is a calm, comforting, and familiar greeting you receive every day. Studies reveal merely watching fish can help lower blood pressure and muscle tension in people about to undergo oral surgery. No wonder dentists are so fond of aquariums!

Other research reveals that pet owners have lower blood pressure and heart rate before and after performing stressful tasks. The presence of an animal is so beneficial for both physical and mental reasons.

  1. Pets offer unconditional love.

Pets will love you no matter what. They are without opinions, critiques or verdicts. A study showed that nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely with some quiet time with a dog alone than a visit with both a dog and other residents.  The study had half the group spend alone time with just a dog and the other half shared the dog with other nursing home residents. Those who spent time with the dog alone felt the least alone compared to the others. This could mean that many people prefer to spend quality time with their furry little friends so they can divulge their innermost thoughts and not be judged.

  1. Pets change our behavior.

You may have the worse day ever, but when you walk through the door, your pet will be excited and happy to see you. They will crave your attention and love. Pets have the ability to alter your behavior. You become less agitated and depressed after spending quality time with your loving pet.

  1. Pets are a great distraction.

In the midst of the good and horrible things occurring in our lives, pets can be an excellent distraction. Pets only require food, water, affection and attention. They are simple beings. For that reason, pets can be an effective therapy when your head is flooding with distractions. It is tough to ruminate on how horrible things are when a dog or cat is breathing near your face.

  1. Pets promote touch.

Touch is a powerful healing tool. Research indicates that a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and even allows for your immune system to run more efficiently by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our body with oxytocin, a chemical that reduces blood pressure, heart rate and lowers stress.   It should come to no surprise then that petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and boost happy chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.

  1. Pets make you more responsible.

With pets come responsibility, and sometimes that is very healthy for us. Psychologists agree that we build our self-esteem by taking ownership of a task. When we succeed, we can assure ourselves that we can take care of others as well as ourselves. Taking care of a pet brings structure to our day. Sleeping in becomes less likely because we have to walk our dogs. Staying out all night now requires more planning and thought. Essentially, you begin to spend more time conscious of your day to day duties.

Having a pet can be helpful for many reasons. Do you have a furry friend?  If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness, substance abuse or addiction, please call now.

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Liking VS Wanting: Addiction’s Pursuit VS Happiness

Liking VS Wanting: Addiction’s Pursuit VS Happiness

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Thanks to Facebook, we know how to ‘LIKE’ stuff a whole lot these days. We ‘like’ pictures and videos, blogs and articles, even relationship statuses. Social media has totally changed the ‘like’ game! But that’s not the kind of liking we are talking about here. Not specifically anyway. With the way our senses are wired to seek pleasure we forget the difference between healthy and hazardous stimulation. This should be a no-brainer in relation to addiction. Many of us believe that we drink or use drugs essentially because we like the effect of substances. While there are surely other elements of our mental and emotional lives that contribute to our addiction, we cannot deny it begins often as a means to get something we want.

One idea describes a discernment between liking something and wanting it. Drawing from this logic, I thought it would be cool to relate it to addiction, alcoholism and just experience in life of sobriety.

Two of a Kind

This idea on ‘liking VS wanting’ comes from a 2007 paper in the journal Psychopharmacology. Here the author breaks down the idea of two kinds of pleasure.

  1. Liking

Liking is how we usually think of pleasure. That is to say, we relate it to a state of happiness or satisfaction. Think of the kind of genuine gratification you experience after a good meal, or some cold water when you’re overheated and dehydrated. This is the kind of pleasure defined as liking.

We would think of liking as the kind of pleasure that comes from something like falling in love. It is characterized with feelings like:

  • Contentment
  • Relaxation
  • Safety

This is a powerful pleasure felt at an intrinsic level of fulfillment.

  1. Wanting

This second kind of pleasure comes from the chase. In this context, wanting is probably comparable to lusting or yearning after something. This pursuit is coupled with feelings like:

  • Excitement
  • Anticipation
  • Seduction
  • Empowerment

This wanting pleasure is the thrill of the chase and the burning of desire. Wanting is the kind of impulse that motivates us to do senseless things. Even when we know it to be injurious, we fixate on the pleasure we get from wanting and do it anyway.

I feel like every person reading this can relate to this. To some extent or another we have all been there.

Wanting and Addiction

The most obvious example of wanting is drug use.  The feeling of wanting is strongly connected to the brain’s dopamine system. Chasing the feeling of wanting through substances can intensify from an occasional means of quick-fix satisfaction to an irresistibly compulsive addiction. This typically happens when we rely on feelings of wanting instead of liking for extended periods of time to meet our needs.

How long it takes wanting to transform into ‘craving’ depends on the combination of predisposition to addiction and experience with drug use.

Once habitual reliance on drugs or alcohol creates an overwhelming craving, the wanting feeling wins even if someone feels sick or if using costs them their health and relationships.

This same kind of dopamine response is also relative to other compulsive behaviors such as:

So even when you know you’re not making a wise or healthy choice the wanting can be undeniably strong after relying on it for long enough.

Liking Your Life

The battle between liking and wanting is very real when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. Especially when you think of it as actual happiness versus the pursuit of something you think will make you happy. When you focus on your ‘wanting’ you are chasing things that aren’t necessarily sustainable.

Liking and wanting can be compared to that ‘grass is greener’ ideology. Actually liking your life is savoring the moments and the experiences. True happiness and real gratitude are powerful expressions many addicts and alcoholics find as rewards in sobriety. We learn not to want as much and to enjoy more. This is better than living in a constant state of wanting. It reminds me of when addicts say we have the disease of ‘more,’ meaning we are always chasing the next high instead of living in the true happiness that is already here.

In the future, challenge yourself to find a state of liking where you are and who you are. It’s OK to be ambitious, but don’t let your drive for the next moment make this one right now seem insignificant. Addiction has a way of numbing you to the beautiful things you have now to make you crave things you think will make you feel better. Substance abuse and addiction are more powerful and insidious than most people know, but there is help. Learning to like the life you live is part of the process that leads to strong and lasting recovery.

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4 Reasons Why We Won’t Let Ourselves Be Happy

4 Reasons Why We Won’t Let Ourselves Be Happy

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

When it comes to our own happiness, many of us love to let ourselves down. When we find ourselves sabotaging ourselves, we tend to put the blame more on the circumstances surrounding our situation, or we just chalk it all up to bad timing or divine misfortune. But the truth is much worse.

We are all, to some extent or another, intolerant of our own happiness.

When reading into this list I learned that accomplished author and nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a bestselling book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, where she reported that one of the most common regrets people have at the end of their lives is that they wish they’d let themselves be happier!

Evidence of this indicates as people we typically feel that while attaining happiness is well within our control, we somehow manage to block ourselves off from our own happiness!

I can identify with the idea of preventing myself from pursuing the things that I love out of some strange misconception of it being selfish or irresponsible, and we all have moments when we listen to an internal critical voice that encourages us not to set goals or expect too much for our lives, to settle for less than the joy we deserve, ironically triggered every time we start taking steps forward.

In addiction we see these kinds of self-deprecating patterns over and over again in a cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction. We get angry at ourselves for trying to stop using when we fail, and we punish ourselves or avoid the pain by getting trashed over and over.

These are just 4 reasons why we won’t let ourselves be happy.

  1. Identity

Who we are in our minds is a security blanket, even when our sense of self is based on a bad image in a broken mirror. If our perception of ourselves is a poor one, and we start to make positive progress it can make us feel anxious and uncomfortable in that we are afraid to lose our sense of identity.

Letting go of the old expired and negatively exaggerated perceptions we develop early in life is huge for allowing ourselves to have happiness. If we keep telling ourselves we have a limited worth, we confine our potential.

  1. Guilt

This is one I definitely can identify with whole-heartedly.

Sometimes we convince ourselves that choosing to be happy in the present represents abandoning our past. Naturally we feel guilty to step out of our imaged roles in life and leave them behind to be independent from that, or to grow out of old relationships from our past.

Changing our lives to pursue happiness can feel like separating from our identity, and also feeling like we are throwing away a bond with others that we had. I once made the mistake of believing that moving on was the same as never caring at all, and it kept me trapped in guilt for a long time.

Freedom to be truly happy is not about feeling guilty for surpassing our former selves, or even surpassing the connections we used to have. We should never feel guilty about living in the presence of our own happiness.

  1. Defenses

Humans spend a life-time building walls to defend ourselves from a world we may see as cruel, judgmental or harmful. We get jaded and shelter ourselves to adapt to our environment. We build up a tolerance to the injustice of our own self-defeat.

Then when we get older, those old defenses don’t always rise to the new challenges we are presented with throughout our lives and we find it difficult to rely on our default settings, so we undermine our happiness either by avoiding new situations that are unfamiliar, or by subconsciously recreating harmful situations so we are comfortable with mediocrity.

Dropping our defenses is the only way we can hope to escape the solitary prison of discontent we hold ourselves in. If we take the risk of something new in our lives, we have greater opportunities at genuine happiness. Too often do we avoid a perfect opportunity for an amazing piece of life waiting for us because we are too busy comparing it to the past.

  1. Pain

The fear of pain keeps so many of us from really trying to seek happiness, and I have seen this and felt this intensely throughout my own experience. Sometimes we forget the world isn’t so black and white.

Psychologist Pat Love once said:

“When you long for something like love, it becomes associated with pain.”

Have you ever felt like getting what you wanted made you feel pain and sadness?

It’s because it reminds you of something you didn’t get in the past. It takes you back to a time you were hurt in contrast. Maybe when you are finally chosen by someone, you remember the suffering of a rejection, and your mind scrambles for those old defenses to protect itself.

In life, we must all eventually face one very real, very profound inevitability- We. Will. Hurt.

We will be sad; we will feel crushed under the weight of existence; we will feel defeated. We may have moments where happiness seems like an abstract feeling far beyond the comprehension this world will ever allow us, and in times most vulnerable we will feel lost… but with all the pain comes beautiful uncertainty; that is not all there is.

A full life experiences these things, but it allows itself to experience love, gratitude, pleasure and ambition. A fulfilled life has rain clouds and thunderstorms… just like it has sunshine and clear skies. We can intrinsically be resistant to our own happiness, but we cannot falter, for it is our responsibility to fight for it.

Happiness is what we make of it. In addiction it seems nearly impossible, and in recovery we find a new freedom and a new happiness, but that still takes some effort. Allowing ourselves to be happy can be hard, but once we reach for it, it is always obtainable if we are willing. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


Speaking In Smiles: How We Define Happiness

Speaking In Smiles: How We Define Happiness

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

What is happiness?

Is it a warm gun? Is it what happens when you don’t worry?

Is it truly something money can’t buy? Is it the feeling we choose to carry with us with adversity even in the toughest times? I came across a few articles discussing happiness this morning, and thought why not share some thoughts.

Historians and philosophers have mused over the notion since the conception of the word, and over time it seems our ideas as to what “happiness” means has changed through differences in culture and circumstances, with the help of dialect and language.

In America’s Declaration of Independence we were all promised the right to pursue it. Today various research groups engage in the scientific method to research questions about what “happiness” is, and how it might be attained. It impacts our health, and even has its roots in our spiritual beliefs. So what should it mean to you?

Dictionary’s “Happy” Definition

On the Marriam-Webster dictionary website, the word “happiness” is defined commonly as:

“A state of being happy”

Huh… far out. Thanks Webster for that incredible insight!

No but seriously, it goes on to describe it as

  • Good fortune: prosperity
  • A state of well-being and contentment: joy
  • A pleasurable or satisfying experience

Online informative site Wikipedia defines “happiness” as:

“A mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources.”

Most philosophers and historians have been able to agree that the idea of happiness in ancient times centered on good luck and fortune, in contrast to today’s contemporary view from the perspective of most Americans as something over which they have control and something that they can actively pursue in our lifetime. Which one feels closer to home to you?

The Scientific Search for Happiness

Although the scientific study of happiness and ‘subjective well-being’ (SWB) has thrived over the last 30 years, the concept of happiness has been abstract, mysterious and intangible according to researchers.

In 1984 Ed Diener, an American psychologist, professor, and author who is known for over 25 years of research on the subject advocated the use of the scientific term SWB as opposed to happiness precisely because of the obscurities associated with the term “happiness.”

SWB has been regularly used as the subjective evaluation of factors such as:

  • Life as a whole
  • The presence of pleasant emotions
  • The relative absence of unpleasant emotions

While the exact use of the term “happiness” has been debated, others are more focused on the effects than the strictest definition. A 2005 study by Andrew Steptow and Michael Marmot claimed to have found that happiness is clearly related to biological markers that play an important role in health.

Another author on the subject even reported that happy people live 14% longer, increasing longevity 7.5 to 10 years, suggesting that laughter and smiles can truly be some of the best medicine. But how can we know for sure if scientists can’t give us a formula for it… aside from serotonin, dopamine and other chemicals in the brain that create comparable sensations…what is the exact receipt for happiness?

Philosophy of “Happy” in Society

Socrates thought of happiness as something at least partially within one’s control, and that the education of desire is a key to happiness. Even the American President Abraham Lincoln once said,

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

According to University of California researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky,

“40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change.”

Over time what we conceive to be important to our happiness has changed.

In 1938 psychologist Sandie McHugh from the University of Bolton conducted an unscientific survey on the happiness, asking a series of questions in a news advertisment which 226 people responded to.  Comparing that data to a similar survey from 2014 we can see subtle changes and patterns.

In 1938 the 3 most important aspects of happiness were:

  • Security
  • Knowledge
  • Religion

In 2014 the top 3 were:

  • Security
  • Good humor
  • Leisure

Just that one chunk of facts can say a lot about how we have changed over time to understanding our meaning of happiness. Religion fell to 10th most important in 2014, while it appears telling jokes is more important than being educated and relaxing is more important than spirituality. Some of this change probably has a lot to do with social media and technology that has begun to wirelessly reprogram our self-image, satisfaction and expectations in ways that both restrict and expand out perception.

Some people believe knowing what happiness really means is almost as difficult as achieving it. Some motivational speakers and psychologists have even written entire books on how to identify your happiness and how you can best achieve it. There is theory that happy people make more money, have more friends and are even more creative.

As a (recovering) manic depressive and an artist’s I’m not sure how accurate that last part is, but I’ll let it ride.

Speaking In Smiles

I have written before that I believe we all have some level of influence on how happy life is day to day, and in my opinion that is contingent on how I appreciate the present, moment to moment. I don’t think happiness means the absence of unpleasant emotions, but it does mean having the emotional sobriety to smile through it. They say you can practice happiness, and if practice makes perfect than a perfect life is less about having everything you want and more about valuing every object and experience your graced with.

If true happiness is the combination of how satisfied you are with your meaning in life and how good you regularly feel, then perhaps the key to each individuals happiness is finding the most fulfilling piece of ourselves and trying to make it the intrinsic inspiration of our lives.

Maybe happiness feels so abstract because we are so each so different. Regardless of our brains chemical responses and biological behavior, we all know different things that strike different nerves. Maybe we should never have a strict definition of happiness, because in the realm of the abstract there is freedom, and in that freedom we find our own catharsis by speaking in smiles.

“If you want to be happy, be.”

Leo Tolstoy

When we get lost in drugs and alcohol, compulsion and addiction, we start to forget what being happy feels like. Never give up on being happy, because you deserve it and there is always a way back. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Creativity and Happiness: Why Having a Creative Outlet Is Good for Your Recovery

Creativity and Happiness: Why Having a Creative Outlet Is Good for Your Recovery

By Cheryl Steinberg

I am a firm believer in having a creative outlet in sobriety to support my program of recovery. In fact, I think, as human beings, it’s part of our very nature to be creative in some way, shape, or form. And, so, it’s not an exclusive thing to recovery; however, it seems to make perhaps an even bigger difference for those of us recovering from drug addiction.

After all, recovery is about thriving, not just surviving. I see a lot of people who are racking up the sober time, which is awesome. But that’s about all they have going for them. This is our second (and maybe third, fourth…seventh) chance at life. Make it great.

Well, this writer came across a little article that talks about the importance of creativity in the role of cultivating happiness. And who doesn’t want to be happy? (rhetorical question)

So, what makes us happy? Studies show that giving away money seems to help with feeling happy. But, besides giving to charities – and for those of us who may not be able to give as much as we’d like if at all (#WorkingPoor), what’s left?

Those of us in recovery already know of a way to be happy AND help others – all for free: service.

OK, so far, we have 1.) giving to charity and 2.) doing service work.

Well, newly published research suggests yet another free way to cultivate your own happiness:  Engaging in a creative activity.

Study: The Relationship Between Creativity and Happiness

In a study of college students conducted by a research team led by Paul Silvia of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro writes in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, “people who reported feeling happy and active were more likely to be doing something creative at the time.”

Furthermore, the researchers found that you don’t even have to be good at whatever the medium (i.e. painting, writing, poetry) in order to reap the emotional rewards. So, even if your pursuits in creativity and your finished products are “frivolous, amateurish or weird,” the research says “the creative process that yielded them appears important to positive psychological development.”

The study was conducted over a week’s time and involved 79 students at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. All participants first filled out a detailed survey that was designed to identify their basic personality traits, and reporting “how often they engage in everyday creativity” such as “writing a poem, drawing a picture, making a recipe.”

Next, the participants received phone calls eight times a day for the next seven days. Each time, they were asked the question “Are you doing something creative?” The subjects were then asked to describe their emotional state in that moment. Specifically, they were asked to report the extent to which they were experiencing a range of feelings, including happy, sad, anxious, angry, and restless.

“We found that the frequency of doing something creative was quite high—around 22 percent,” Silvia and his colleagues report. What’s more, when participants were caught in the act of being creative, “they reported feeling significantly happier and more active” than at other reports.

Creativity and Happiness: Why Having a Creative Outlet Is Good for Your Recovery

Overall, the study provides evidence supporting Dr. Ruth Richards’ theory of the psychological value of “everyday creativity.” Richards, the researchers note, wrote that day-to-day creativity “is both a cause and consequence of positive development.

The takeaway: “Engaging in creative pursuits allows people to explore their identities, form new relationships, cultivate competence, and reflect critically on the world,” they write. “In turn, the new knowledge, self-insight, and relationships serve as sources of strength and resilience.”

And these are all important aspects of building a strong foundation in sobriety and, therefore, a strong program of recovery.

When someone is caught up in the cycle of substance dependence or addiction, it’s practically impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no time for fun, creativity, love, or happiness. But life doesn’t have to be that way for you. Not anymore.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, help is available 24/7! Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today. All calls are confidential.

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