Learning to Be Happy

Learning to Be Happy

In mental health by Tree House Recovery

People thinking about getting treatment for addiction or people just starting out in recovery are often told by people with a long history of sobriety that they will be much happier sober but often, they can’t quite believe it. For people struggling with substance use, drugs and alcohol are often at the core of what happiness means to them. 

For one thing, happiness to them means having fun and they see drugs and alcohol as a necessary condition for fun. And it’s true that drugs and alcohol provide all kinds of strange and pleasurable experiences. It’s also true that when people are having fun, drugs and alcohol are often involved. However, for most people considering treatment or starting out in recovery, drugs and alcohol stopped being fun long ago and at some point turned into a compulsion. And yet, substances are still bound up in their idea of a good time. 

To others, happiness means relief from pain. Most people who develop substance use disorders are dealing with some kind of pain, whether it’s from depression, anxiety, trauma, or shame. Drugs and alcohol can relieve that pain–at least temporarily. If you’re used to living with emotional pain, it can be hard to believe that you can actually live a happier life without your primary coping mechanism. 

For those reasons, people starting out in recovery actually have to learn how to be happy. This isn’t simple but instead requires learning a different way to live. Primarily it involves making two big changes.

Finding healthy ways to cope

The first task of learning to be happy in recovery is to address whatever is making you miserable. Most people with substance use disorders have mental health issues, which may include depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, or psychotic disorders. To succeed in recovery, any co-occurring issues must be correctly diagnosed and treated. This dramatically reduces the pain you have to live with on a daily basis. Therapy can also help you find healthy ways to cope, which may include lifestyle changes such as daily exercise, healthy diet, and adequate sleep, as well as cognitive and behavioral strategies to give you more control over your emotional life. 

Finding a sense of purpose

The next step is finding a sense of purpose. Many people assume that happiness is a matter of maximizing pleasure but pleasure is always fleeting. Just as you build a tolerance for drugs and alcohol, you quickly become bored with experiences that are merely pleasurable and you want something new. It’s a never-ending cycle. People who feel good about their lives tend to pursue meaning instead. They often find this by dedicating themselves to a cause they care about or finding meaningful connection to other people. This is why service and community have been integral aspects of 12-step programs from the beginning. The trick is that meaningful pursuits aren’t always fun, especially at first. However, if what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked for you, maybe it’s time for a different approach.


Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon uses cutting-edge techniques in individualized programs to help men achieve freedom from addiction. Taking a holistic, sustainable approach to the inner and outer effects of addiction ensures you or your loved one will emerge with the confidence and skills to manage your addiction independently. No one is beyond help- our Admissions Counselors are available 24/7 at (503) 850-2474