This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Helpful Addictions

William Glaser argued in a 1976 book (Positive Addiction) some addictive behaviors are healthy. He defined positive addictions as those that "strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying." Positive addictions, he says, come in many varieties. Among those described to him by people who talked with him after lectures on the concept:

How did Glaser define positive addictions?

—Chanting psalms half an hour a day.

—Ballet dancing

—Taking a walk in the garden

—Lifting weights

Initially Glaser was not looking for the concept of positive addiction. He was looking for evidence of dependency and withdrawal symptoms in people who seemed to display addictive behavior by engaging compulsively in socially approved habits like jogging or bike riding. He did find some passionate devotion to the activities. For example, here was the testimony of one young mother who described herself as addicted to a half hour bicycle ride after dinner.

"What happens if you don't ride your bike?" She replied, "Nothing happens, because I always ride my bike." Her statement was so definite that I asked her in a teasing way, "Well, what if one of your children were very sick and needed care, wouldn't you skip your bike ride?" Her half-humorous, half-serious reply was, "They better not get sick during the hour after dinner that I ride my bike." (Glaser, 1976, p.92)

As Glaser notes, the reply was only half-serious. A positive addiction is defined partly by the fact that it does not cause harmful effects, such as neglecting one's children. On the whole, Glaser found that such activities usually played a healthy role in people's lives. Positive addiction activities were outlets for creativity, stress reduction, or calm thoughtful reflection. They were times to let go of worries or times to engage in an activity that absorbed the mind and gave it a reprieve from everyday concerns. Daily meditation would be an example.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey