Several years ago, I said to a friend, “If I run every day, I feel great. But, if I miss a day, I feel terrible. It’s almost like an addiction.” His response was surprising, but it rang true. “It isn’t LIKE an addiction; it IS an addiction.” I had to face the fact that my running had become more than a sometime thing or just a habit. It was a daily necessity. Yes, as much as I hated to admit it, that terrible word “addiction” did apply.
My mind immediately recalled Positive Addiction, a book by psychiatrist William Glasser that I read years ago. My running was nothing like those nasty, negative addictions involving drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food, sex, gambling, shopping, or work. All those activities were bad for you in many different ways. Running, on the other hand, was a good and positive thing. Yes, it was an addiction, but it was a positive, not a negative addiction.
Glasser listed several activities which qualified as positives, but there are many more. His list included: running, walking, meditating, yoga, weight training, painting, sculpting, writing, cooking, volunteer work, and advanced study. He wrote that positive addictions strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying. They also enable us to “live with more confidence, more creativity, and more happiness and usually in much better health.” So, they enhance life instead of diminishing it.
One of the hallmarks of negative addictions is that the required dose gradually increases over time. This is clearly the case with drugs and alcohol. Stronger or larger doses are required to achieve the same results. Is the same true with positive addictions? I have not seen anything written about this but from personal experience, I know it can be true.
When I started running it was mostly 5K’s. Over the years it progressed to 10K, 10miles, marathons and then ultras. Weekly mileage went from 20 to 4o to 80 and then for a short time 120. The journey ended a few years ago with a knee replacement. No more running and therefore no more running addiction. Now I limit myself to one hour of exercise involving weights, calisthenics and walking. It still feels like a daily necessity, but it is much more contained, manageable and enjoyable.
Some have written that we humans seem to be very prone to developing addictions of one kind or another. Almost any substance or activity can become the subject of an addiction and almost everyone engages in something which can be called an addiction. Today, it often involves the computer, cellphone, internet, social media, binge streaming, etc. Assuming this to be true, then it behooves us to make sure it is positive and that it enhances our life and does not diminish it in any way.
Sam Graceffo, MD