Happiness exercises boost moods of those recovering from addiction says MGH study

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:58 PM PST

Short writing exercises reliving happy moments boosted the moods of adults recovering from addiction in a study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital's (MGH) Recovery Research Institute.

"Recovery is hard," said lead author Bettina B. Hoeppner, senior research scientist at the institute and an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. "For the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way."

More than 500 adults struggling with addiction participated in the randomized, online survey. They each were assigned one of five psychology exercises that took an average of four minutes to complete.

Participants reported the greatest mood lift after completing an exercise that had them select and describe one of their own photos capturing a happy time. An exercise in which participants noted two positive experiences from the previous day led to the next-highest gains in happiness, followed by one that had them list a highlight and a challenge from the day before and a pleasure anticipated the next day. Those who were asked to write only about challenges they had faced the previous day saw a dip in happiness.

The study's authors say exercises such as the ones used in their study hold promise as a tool for promoting happiness during treatment, which may help support long-term recovery.

"Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life," Hoeppner said. "Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment."

The study, published online in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, is the first of its kind to test whether positive psychology exercises boost happiness in people recovering from substance use. Its co-authors are Hannah Carlon and Susanne Hoeppner of the Recovery Research Institute, and Melissa Schick, a University of Rhode Island graduate student.

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‘Othello’ still resonates 400 years later

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 11:13 AM PST

For one Harvard alumnus, it's clear why the more-than-400-year-old story of doomed love between a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his bride is so relevant today.

"The way in which otherness is detailed in terms of racial otherness, religious otherness, gender: everything about the play feels like it speaks to this moment to me," said Bill Rauch '84, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, whose production of Shakespeare's "Othello" is being presented by the American Repertory Theater through Feb. 9.

"It just felt urgent," added Rauch.

Rauch recently sat down with Shakespeare expert and John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities Stephen Greenblatt for a conversation about the Bard's resonance with modern viewers, the importance of a diverse cast, the music in the language of "Othello," and more.

Pride, jealousy, love, hate, devotion, ambition, and anger all swirl through the contemporary setting, fused together in a plot Greenblatt considers similar to those of Shakespeare's comedies. However, the comic conceit of "Othello" becomes the most "hideous practical joke," as deceit takes a deadly twist.

"This turns out to be the most unbearable, the most painful … the most intimate, soul-destroying vision, and yet it's built around this comic device," said Greenblatt, referencing Othello's descent into a jealous rage after he is tricked by his ensign, Iago. "I've read the play a thousand times, I've seen it a thousand times. I am still astonished that Shakespeare carried this off. I can't fathom how he succeeded."

Greenblatt is the author of 13 books, including "Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics" and "Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare," and general editor of both the Norton Anthology of English Literature and of the Norton Shakespeare. He also teaches the Harvard edX course "Othello's Story."

Rauch is no stranger to the A.R.T. He led the 2016 production of "Fingersmith," a thriller set in Victorian England based on Sarah Waters' 2002 novel. He also directed the A.R.T.'s 2013 production of "All the Way," the story of President Lyndon Johnson's efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with Bryan Cranston in the lead role. The A.R.T. version of the production appeared on Broadway and won Tony Awards for best play and best actor for Cranston.

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