Finding Healthy Addictions

Some of you may remember a similar post from about a year ago.-Gail

I want to discuss the notion of “healthy addictions.” Really, this is an important topic. Our brain likes 'happy' chemicals and we tend to find ways to effect their release. Trouble is, we become quickly habituated to stimulation and then seek novelty in order to get that same old feeling. Our modern society gives us so many opportunities to be rewarded, but many people can’t handle it. They gradually become addicted to unhealthy things.

Topics I'll explore are: Distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy addictions. Examples of each kind. And my birthday wishes.


Nate Hagens has written about the psychology, sociology and neurology behind addictive behavior, including consumerism, which is basically the process of turning high value natural capital into mostly disposable products with low or often negative marginal utility.

Over a year ago Nate and I did a radio show together titled Evolution, Addiction and Economic Demand. Go there for more background or check out this one from The Oil Drum archives.

The bottom line is that I don't believe we can keep from becoming addicted to something. Once we accept this fact of life, the issue becomes whether we can work on controlling what we are addicted to--making it healthy and inexpensive rather than destructive and costly.

How to Tell the Difference

This table contrasts healthy and unhealthy addictions using four criteria that I think are important.

Consider what you do regularly as a kind of pleasurable compulsion and compare it to that table. Is it an activity that consumes a lot of resources and generates trash, or is it environmentally benign? Do you get tired of it quickly and feel pressure for "more", or does the pleasure linger? Is it causing you to be pulled always into the present and unable to plan for the future, or does it involve delayed gratification? Are you depleted mentally or physically by the activity, or are you stronger or more skilled as a result?

My Healthy Addiction

I believe cultivation of plants is a healthy addiction. When I am working on the farm or garden I get to do all sorts of addictive activities. First, I make plans. This sets up the expectation of a reward. But the reward is in the future and the exact timing and quality of the reward is not perfectly known. This is important from a neurological perspective. We want to have expectations fulfilled, but they can’t be totally predictable because fulfillment requires the establishment of tension.

After the garden plan sets up a potential reward, I invest in its outcome. This raises the stakes. I really don’t want the plants to die. I tend them. Watching them grow feeds mini rewards. “Oh look! The seeds are germinating!” Getting the odd positive reinforcement along the way keeps me hooked. It’s like having a flirtatious conversation.

I really don’t know why, but the plants are beautiful too. I like to gaze upon a thriving bed of rainbow-colored chard. The colors of lettuce are astounding, especially when back lit during dawn or dusk. I grow a light green variety called Salad Bowl and a dark red one called Red Oak Leaf. Seeing them side-by-side is a treat.

I look forward to these experiences each year. In the winter I start to miss them. Seasonality is crucial because it re-establishes novelty. I don’t eat fresh tomatoes out of season, which means I enjoy them all the more when they come off those vines. And the winter provides its own rewards. Tree collards are sweetest in the winter, for example. The occasional snow or hard frost events are fun. An inch of snow on dark green-blue Dino kale is a more or less twice-yearly spectacle.

Looking at the four criteria, growing my own organic food is a great addiction. It has a low ecological footprint as I use mostly manual labor and local resources, and it displaces potentially purchased food with a high footprint. Habituation is slow because the novelty begins anew each year. The required planning and delayed gratification related to "plant time" helps me develop a long-term perspective, or a relatively flat discount rate. And I am eating nutritious food and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.

By Contrast

For comparison, let's briefly review the great American pastime of shopping.

Product developers and marketers exist to get us addicted to buying stuff. I notice that people give each other things because they feel obligated or as a sign of affection. (Personally, I can't guarantee I won't snap when my kids are given more plastic gizmos and candy at the next round of holiday festivities).

Shopping addiction qualifies as unhealthy: the embodied energy and resulting pollution are high, product novelty wears off quickly, advertiser promotion of "newness" increases short-term thinking, and having too much stuff means that the marginal utility for most things is low.

My Birthday Wishes

As a kid I would ask for new things for my birthday. But now I am trying to reduce the burden of material stuff cluttering my life. In fact, this year (I'll be 40) I'd like a whole lot of people to stop being addicted to consumerism. (Note: My birthday isn't for a couple of months. Second note: I'd also like Bart Anderson of Energy Bulletin to consider this essay worthy of Deep Thought status.)

As an American, I'd actually like to destroy the idea that we are a nation of consumers. We need a new identity. Perhaps we can try "citizens" or "sentient Earthlings." I don't know, but just about anything is better than what we label ourselves now. It would be great to have reports about "consumer confidence" be replaced by reports on "citizen life satisfaction."

Think about it. If consumer confidence goes up people will eat out more, buy more party food, and probably gain weight and clogged arteries. We will then get a new report on the worsening epidemics of obesity and childhood diabetes.

My last birthday wish is for more people to start connecting a few simple dots.

What Else?

There must be a whole lot of healthy addictions out there. I expect that as people have less money and more time they will shift into new kinds of activities, and I hope these outlets are good ones. We are a remarkably species, able to adapt and acclimate to great changes.

Discussion question for readers: What healthy addictions have you developed, and what unhealthy ones may have been replaced?

Building furniture, renovating houses, plus gardening. I just roto-tilled up a large patch and felt so much pleasure in the new earth smell and watching the robins follow me around for worms. We have a very large garden and probably use just 2 gallons of gas over the entire year keeping it going. Gardening links me to my relatives of times past who were farmers in Minnesota. It helps me remember my dad. I always try to plant potatoes on his birthday which is what he did as long as I remember. It is something enduring for me, and something I share with my wife that brings us together.

Also, I have a friend who taught me to make fine wine from good grapes. I think it is healthy to drink at least 500 ml in the evening with supper and hockey playoffs. After all, wine is a food, is it not? If it gets too expensive to bring in grapes I guess we will have to switch back to fruit wines and maybe build a still.

Yeah, working in and around the house is also a growing addiction of mine. I still live at home (most of the time, I'm 22 now) where we have about 1,7ha to keep me occupied. I normally do the more technical and or heavy labour. I like to maintain the trees and learn about then. Also I do most of the repairs. I find it challenging to repair as much as possible instead of chucking it out and just buying new stuff. Often a nut and a bolt in the right place fixes things. I think all this is a very healthy addiction. I learn a lot, it doesn't use a lot of resources (maybe 5L/a off fuel and some electricity) and sometimes it's physically challenging as well. This addiction definitely comes from my father who I've helped/worked with as long as I can remember. When I work around the house it brings back the good memories and the associated feeling.

Another big addiction of mine is technology which used to have a big emphasis on IT (hence me studying IT), but lately it's shifting to sustainability. I spend way to much time reading, thinking and discussing it on-line. A lot on TOD, but also at other on-line resources. I think this is perfectly healthy, even though it doesn't give me a lot of exercise and uses some electricity. The later is easily offset by the awareness, the implemented savings and soon all remaining electricity will be offset whit PV.

I do do drugs occasionally. No caffeine, but I get drunk once or twice a month, THC however is very occasional (1year-1) and anything other is an exception. My drug habit is very much under control and I notice that interest is diminishing as I get older. How is your drug habit? (Using this definition: "A drug, broadly speaking, is any substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function.", so including caffeine and alcohol.)

My biggest sin is that I'm totally addicted to skiing. I travel a lot, because the nearest serious resort is 800km away and the skiing itself is quiet resource consuming as well. It's just such a huge adrenaline rush! The hook is just reasonable, but I'm in deep. On the other hand it does provide a very healthy workout, learned me a new language, made me a living as instructor for a while, found me a girlfriend and a whole lot of other friend. My biggest concern at this point is how I can lessen the impact of this addiction?

Do you and if so how do you seek to lessen the bad implications of your addiction?

My favorite healthy addition is my wood burning stove. I love spending 8 hours on a beautiful saturday chainsawing, splitting and stacking wood. I love even more just laying in front of the fireplace on cold winter days, playing games with my kids, watching movies, etc.

That's great, but I have neighbors who poison my night-time air with woodsmoke, and I wake with a sore throat and headache from their over-tamped fireplace. yes, I know the latest, greatest stoves are much more efficient, but there are not many out there and even they could be adjusted incorrectly to produce smoke, I bet.

Hi Mamba - I'm one of the many people with a correctly adjusted modern pollution controlled wood stove. My wood comes from my own and my father's land. It is not transported far. My oil boiler has been entirely off for two years now. I have neighbors who poison the night time air with their incorrectly adjusted oil boilers. I know the latest, greatest oil boilers are much more efficient, but there are not many out there and even they could be adjusted incorrectly to produce smoke, I bet.

PS sorry about your neighbors with the old stove. They probably cannot afford anything else (if they can, they need to be told how much wood and labor a new stove saves). If they cannot afford a new stove maybe someone from the good side of town can buy them a prius and a heat pump.

Prediction: if everyone turns back to wood heating in cold climate countries, it will be an environmental and health disaster. I like a nice wood fire as much as anyone, but I don't think the fire enthusiasts are being realistic.

Everyone in rural cold climate areas, where there is sufficient wood, will turn to wood heating. It is the only choice that makes sense. The choice will be wood stove/ pellet furnace/ biomass boiler. It will not be an environmental and health disaster disaster, it will in fact help address the current climate disaster.

Well not everyone, not much wood up in places like Barrow--they do get a fair amount of breeze though. I personally am checking out pellet systems this year, lots of new biomass grows every summer in the boreal forest, but I am curious about just how much mass would have to to be segregated, insulated and summer sun heated to make heat pumps viable here in the subarctic.

Yes - that's why I said "in places with sufficient wood". I live at 45 N lat, and have worked at 50 and 55 N lat. The heat pump question is a good one. Air and ground source heat pumps work at 45 N, but I don't think they will in areas of permafrost or where ambient is below about -25 F or so. Although it may not be climatologically correct, northern communities may eventually depend on peat boilers?? What do you think? The north lands are close to my heart, although I don't like winter. Ironic.

It was late and I missed that phrase, should have known you were pretty careful about your wording ?- )

Right now in Alaska those northern communities are very oil dependent--but then the North Slope Borough isn't at all short of hydrocarbons. What we are seeing in Alaska is the marginal small village starting to disappear as oil prices rise. Western Alaska is not heavily timbered to say the least. Small air is expensive and getting more so steadily. Much of the modern small off road and off grid community has come to rely on it.

I'm guessing many of the villages will become seasonal hunting and fishing camps at most, using whatever local fuel sources that can be had. Once the school closes a lot changes. Many villages that had been transient stabilized around schools so it is not surprising they will fade when the schools are gone.

The north is relatively resource rich, expect to see more consolidation around resource extraction, and expect to see resource extraction put more pressure on sensitive areas. Of course infrastructure in the north is expensive. Permafrost soils require water systems to be well insulated and built with heated circulation loops. High energy input. The northern community is very much the canary in the peak oil coal mine.

Galena, a Yukon River community that until recently had a small air force presence, is looking at many power option. Experimental flow of river electrical generation will be getting its second season trial this year, and a nuclear battery has been on that communities drawing board as well. Alaska is a cool place to be right now ?- )

Your are probably rather fond of the light up north, it is addictive in a good way. Winters are long and summers are pretty hard to explain. Its the first week of May, we had a sprinkling of snow, but the birches are greening quickly and it quit getting completely dark at night at least a week ago. Just for fun, I modified an old addiction last year when I bought a new skate ski package. At almost 61 I managed my first 50k race--finishing 80 out of 89 in our annual end of March event. I actually am now more attuned to the still, white, clear, dry, deep cold than than I am to that damp, blowing, gray, cloudy right at freezing weather so much of the coast gets. But I still love the ocean--go figure ?- )

Of course you realize a good many that read this post are TOD addicts ?- ) The shopping addiction is a complicated one as market day has been a big a event for quite some time, pretty convoluted what we've done to it.

Nice occasional snow we are getting here this cinco de mayo. Looks like planting will need to hold off a little, but I will get to play a little more with my driveway ditches and water flow--a long held addiction. Keeping most of that work to hand labor keeps me from causing too much harm ?- )

Luke, your statement rises another question. Is TOD a "Healthy" or "Unhealthy" addiction ?

It may often sharpen the mind, but it doubtless has made many of us flabbier, and sometimes sadder.

It obviously uses electricity, but not as much as some addictions.

Well, I put the question to my girlfriend this evening. She stated quickly it was unhealthy. Way to much of a downer on the future, which is not good for one mentally. Also a waste of time.

I rest my case, see you tommorrow


I was thinking about getting a laptop with a satellite connection installed on my kayak so I could read TOD while out on the reef. I haven't found one that's oil proof :-(

But I think besides all of us here, already having been assimilated into the TOD Borg. Reading TOD doesn't sharpen our minds, it is completely integrated into them through the technology of computers and the web and has become a part of our extended sensory apparatus. Which in my mind transcends addiction.

Lambrous Malafouris, University of Cambridge England

The mainstream approach to cognition holds that it happens in the mind and that material culture is nothing more than an outgrowth of our mental capacities. Archaeologist Lambros Malafouris is challenging this deep-seated idea with a radical new notion: the hypothesis of extended mind, which posits that material culture is not a reflection of the human mind but an actual part of it. Take, for instance, a blind man's stick. "Where does the blind man end and the rest of the world begin?" he says. "You might see the stick as something external, but it plays a very important role in the perceptual system of this person. It extends the boundaries of this human—the stick becomes an integral part of the cognitive architecture."

Panasonic has those laptops that are oil proof:

Fully-rugged, Toughbook laptops are built to withstand a rig’s harsh environment of salt, chemicals, machinery and moisture. Engineered with features such as corrosion-resistant parts, sealed ports, spill-resistant keyboards and shock-mounted hard drives, Toughbook mobile computers substantially outlast conventional laptops. Toughbook computers aren’t just durable. They’re safe. Certified UL 1604 ClassI, Division 2, they won’t emit dangerous sparks in such a hazardous work environment, allowing workers to focus on the job at hand.

Allthough I think you're better of looking for one that is IPx7 or IPx8, this one is only IP65, so if you drop it overboard, it's lost.

LOL! looks like I no longer have an excuse.

I fear that I am spending way too much time here on TOD myself, but stimulating intellectual company is sort of scare around here, and the nearest really good bookstore, which was my last obsession, is fifty miles away.

But I have never learned more in less time about so many different topics, or been able to interact with so many bright people before. The time is well spent.Sometime after I finish up three more semesters learning a new backup profession,I may try to write up my experiences here in the form of a book-a sort of modern day intellectual travelers tale.

A very good friend is fond of saying that when he was just a little fella , his Dad used to sit him on his lap and tell him useful stories or explain various rules of successful living.One went more or less thus:"Boy, don't you ever buy anything unless you know somebody who will pay more for it than you are fixing to pay."

This resonated immediately with the Scots side of my family background. Both of us have always taken great pride in BUYNG stuff, as opposed to having something SOLD to us.

So if it isn't a sixpack of premium beer or some other modest luxury, both of us have always had what is referred to as a "sharp pencil"in this area when we go out to buy something we need or want.

Niether of us really has a NEED for a canoe, but both of us bought second hand ones in the winter from somebody anxious to sell, and we could both sell at a handsome profit in July if we so desire.

Our reward comes in contemplating getting the exact same utility, and saving three days or so of earnings on the price-three fungible days that we can ENJOY USING the canoes, rather than working FOR the canoe.

My family practices just about all of the low impact, low cost, high lifestyle quality practices mentioned so far by the others who have commented.

There can be no doubt that anyone who lives in a similar fashion is living better than job slaves who may be earning two or three times as much.I have spent days in offices, and on professional jobs, and come home to a nice apartment with my own parking space and a very expensive meal prepared from ingredients purchased at the supermarket.These were the most miserable days of my life.

A day spent sawing firewood, gardening, and fixing up old equipment, or just loafing and reading, is INFINITELY more satisfying.


That a lot of wisdom there that I really appreciate. I didn't realize this until just lately. I was going to school for engineering, for two years or so, with thoughts of making money and making my parents proud. But I really got to thinking how much I didn't enjoy the type of work i was doing, and that the kind of work I would be doing would be relentless and high stress. I don't think its for me, and I am a very frugal person, I'll save for the canoe, I don't need to work FOR the canoe. If you look at how people live all over the world its a really sobering picture that helps you realize you don't need much to be comfortable and happy. That why I've decided to pursue something I have always loved, History. I feel I can make a better positive impact on the world doing that than engineering for sure. Thanks for your comment, Mac!


Hi Swords,

Somewhere, way back in my IT career, I hired a young man who had just completed a 4 yr degree in something like "Management Information Systems". His course work was heavy on analysis, design and computer programming. He had good grades. As I wanted him to have a positive first impression of our organization (back in days when management competed vigorously for good employees) I gave him a particularly choice assignment to design and program an very interesting little subsystem. Actually, some of the long term employees were a bit ticked off that this newcomer got such a plum.

He worked for about 6 hours and then came into my office to give me his resignation. Totally shocked, I asked if there was some problem with his work environment, fellow employees, the assignment - what?

No, he said the office was great, the other employees gave him a great welcome and there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He explained that his parents thought that computer technology was the wave of the future and they paid for all his college expenses so he could get into this wonderful field of work. He always hated the computer related course work but could never bring himself to tell his parents - besides, he was having a great party live in college!

Now, today, looking at the kind of work that faced him for years to come, he simply could not keep the lie going. He hated this kind of work and was not going to spend his life in misery to please his parents. I asked him what he was going to tell his parents? He said he had not thought that through yet, but he would rather take those consequences now and start pursuing a career he really liked. I don't remember what he wanted to do - too bad he didn't take time off from his party life to figure this out a little sooner!

Healthy for whom? Should we prefer addictions that require relatively few resources or addictions that lead to reproductive fitness and a long life? Who should tell us what to prefer?

You present a false dichotomy.

Upon reflection it could make sense if you favor voluntary extinction, but I wouldn't assume that view on anyone as a consider it a particularly alien viewpoint.

Well, it is apparently not an alien concept to these folks:

It is totally alien to me.

I have a very good imagination and while I can reconstruct the logic some of the necessary assumptions make my skin crawl worse than centipedes.

Backyard organic gardening - I have been richly rewarded! My veggies are in, and I have baby peaches, oranges, limes, blackberries, raspberries, grapes (tons of grapes), and strawberries in abundance.

Now, I want a greenhouse...

Other addictions: Biking, swimming, and running! Biking gives me glee, swimming gives me peace, and running is my challenge.

Last of all....Wine.

One of my hobbies from 1966 until recently was walking, swimming or running on the Southern California beaches. I often kept a pair of dedicated tennis shoes and/or a solvent for this purpose because of the troublesome oil seeps. The oil seeps were present long before the Santa Barbara incident. It is said that the Chumash Indians found them useful

I am enjoying my sex addiction. Low carbon footprint. (Avoidance of communicable diseases is easy, never had one in a long life of playing around)


Seriously, swingers clubs are heaps of fun, and free entry for women, yay!

I have several. For one, I've found that physical exercise is absolutely necessary for mood regulation, so I do karate compulsively (I'm a second degree blackbelt now). I really, really enjoy the tactile sensation of doing a well trained motion gracefully, and the calm state of mind that comes when I'm working out really hard while still remaining intellectually engaged with what I'm doing. I love the challenge of beating someone in a sparring match, and I love the pride that comes from seeing my students do well. I used to row in undergrad, and at some point I realized that a lot of my anxiety and stress was the direct result of not working out enough, so now I try to learn and work on physical activities for at least 12 hours a week.

Beyond that, I love tinkering with electronics because I feel like I'm learning so much constantly, and the results are often very beautiful ( I once sat down and read an entire book on low-noise electronics in a single weekend (Ott - Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems) because it was so fascinating from a theoretical and practical point of view.

I also love simpler things, like origami, cooking, playing piano, and meditating/walking/breathing. I also find spending time with my friends "addictive" as well as chasing cute boys... I imagine it's the thrill of the chase! This will actually be fairly hard for me as I move to Boulder, CO for a new job; I will definitely miss my friends at home a great deal while I'm gone.

Alas, I'm not much of a gardener, but I will definitely see if I can get myself addicted to growing raspberries along my back fence! So far the best I've tried since I was a kid have been growing sprouts, but I do remember growing a lot of herbs and vegetables as a child.

A long long time ago I learned to relax, It was mostly self taught, I found that you could teach yourself a lot of things by asking simple questions and seeing where they led you. Later I read books on relaxing and found them to be less than I learned on my own.

Getting rid of stress is the best thing for you as an individual that you can do. As a Christian I later found that Jesus was teaching his followers how to reduce stress, by statement, Worry about nothing and pray about everything. Though that might not be a word for word quote found in the bible, the teachings are there. I only found them later in life, long after I had self taught myself to relax.

Good habits are always something that you want to have, whether or not you have them is something you have to figure out on your own.

I took up training with a stave, nothing formal, just me with a wooden stick and or steel pipe. You find that you have trained muscle memory, and even if you don't use it for a while, you have the skill still in the brain pathways later.

I used to put the 6 foot steel pipe on my head and walk around the yard barefoot balancing it there for as long as possible. Sometimes just getting tired of standing there and dropping it.

Whatever you do, be calm about it.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

That sounds like fun, I enjoy the staff as well as the fire staff, although of course I'm not terribly good at it. It's very satisfying to feel the weight of a heavy staff in your hands spinning around... something about it reminds you that you're not in control of your world, although that doesn't mean you can't still guide where you're going.

In any event, your point about asking simple questions is very meaningful to me; I spend a great deal of time trying to reduce complex arguments and issues into fundamental questions (generally not easily answerable in a concrete sense).

Perhaps you have some to share?

My most interesting so far, along with my own answers based on meditation and experience:

1. Is there a "god"? (yes, but the mind is easily fooled)
2. Is god conscious? (not in the same way as a human, but it shares love)
3. Are all living things conscious? (not in the same way as a human, but they share love)
4. Is the mind entirely physical? (I don't think so, but the mind is easily fooled)
5. Are concepts like "qi" and "chi" real phenomena? (yes, but the mind is easily fooled)
6. Why do people think in words? (data compression and enhanced communication)
7. What are words? (little packets of meaning, with no value in themselves)
8. What is communication? (synchronizing your mind with another being)
9. Is magic real? (yes, but the mind is easily fooled)
10. Where do emotions come from, physically? (the "pit of the stomach")
11. Is there symmetry between "negative" and "positive" emotions (very surprisingly, no. removing the object of a "negative" emotion causes it to dissipate, while removing the object of a "positive" emotion only makes it more intense)

I like approaching spirituality scientifically; the results tend to surprise me. I started out with these questions as an agnostic/athiest/taoist, and I've continually been surprised at the answers when I seriously ask these sorts of questions.

10. Where do emotions come from, physically? (the "pit of the stomach")

How do you explain that? Shouldn't it be the brain?

It is probably both. The digestive system has a lot of nerves, second in density only to the brain. A bad meal can quickly lead to bad feelings, and bad feelings can quickly lead to a sick stomach. There's a lot of new research in this area with some saying that neuroscience has to do a better job at integrating the digestive system to understand behavior.

You missed a big one. Is there a physical universe? (yes, but it is not at all what it appears to be--see F Magyar's links above). Of course that turns right into your magic question because all is pretty much as it appears to be as well ?- ) Easily fooled or not the mind is about all the portal we have ?- ) It does like to create what may well be artificial degrees of separation or are those very degrees of separation the essence of the individual mind ?- ) Enough of that, time for me to heed Candide's advice and go out and move a couple rocks ?- )


I use a form of sleep deprivation, or something along those lines to enhance dreaming. I find that dreams can be very meaningful at a certain level, and I try a lot to get to that level of dream state. Most times I feel like I have gotten a solid answer to some question, whatever it was, even if I never knew what the question was, I feel like I got an answer.

If you would like to discuss this off list, my e.mail is in my profile.

I used to juggle empty glass wine bottles over my bed, if they fell they'd hit a soft spot. I got to the point where I could close my eyes while doing so, it was it's own reward. I'd also do the same with several knives, the flow of time seems to get twisted when you know that you have to remain focused on something besides what is going on in your mind.

I think in pictures a lot more than words, I see brief bits of film as if I just staged a movie, I hardly hear the words of anyone in these bits of movie. I usually write a story either on paper(computer, or long hand) or play the whole scene out in my head with dialogue. I practice keeping all these stories in my head for times when I need to think of other things besides the here and now. I usually can tell the stories verbally to someone and though I might miss some of the dialogue I know the emotions of the people involved.

For a long time I was able to look at someone's picture and discribe to them their emotional state when the picture was taken. As well as if I had had chats with some people often enough online I could feel their emotional state and ask them questions and or talk to them in ways that usually surprised them. I am usually pretty good at picking up non-verbal clues from people. I am not really sure where I learned it, but people have used me to gauge another's emotions and what they might answer if asked certain questions.

Observe the flower grow and the rock shrink, see the humidity form a cloud and go away again, keep your mind at rest and think of nothing but what you see.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

My healthy addictions are Plants, Pool, Writing, Cooking, and doing a bit of stage acting.

I've been growing plants just a few years less than I have been cooking. A few years ago my dad and I found an old recipe of mine, it was in crayon in his Big Black Book of recipes. We'd both forgotten about it. Come to find out the recipe is wrong, but we don't know if I copied it wrong, or if the original recipe was wrong, but the list of ingredients won't work, as given.

I have actively grown gardens for the last 34 years, some have been a few square feet to as large as several 1,000 sqft.

When living here at the family home as a teen and early 20's we had so much produce we had to can and put up a lot of the extra, mostly this was a family affair, but the most of the work was me or my dad. My dad was a trained Executive Chef before I was born, I am 46 now. He only was one for a year or so, going on to other things, but he has used the skills all his life. He is still creating new recipes, especially as I add new foods into our current diet. I love food in all it's vast different kinds.

In Landscape Architecture you find out there are 100s of 1,000s of plants, and I know there are over 20,000 species of edible plants if not more. My goal in my BioWebScape designs is to fit as many edible plants to as many different mirco-climates as possible, first working with local folks and branching out to internet folks. The work will never be finished because the whole world is changing all the time. That would be true even if humans were not around, and because we are things change faster than some of us can keep up.

I was introduced to pool by my father as well, but never played it much till I went off to college. In 2008 I was playing pool almost everyday for months on end. And with all the vectors available on a pool table and all the styles and kinds of games you can play, it is a never ending source of enjoyment. I try to teach myself harder and harder shots, trick shots, things that might seem impossible but aren't because there seems to always be a way to pull off the impossible when playing pool. Last friday I was playing a guy that has won several state pool championships, we both knew he was better than me, but some of my trick shots had him surprised often enough to feed the pleasure center of my brain.

Another good addiction is helping people, altruism has it's own rewards, at times it seems that there is not enough of it going around.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

jason i quibble with the addictions term; having read the morgue reports & knowing a no. of addicts.

in conjunction with your post i think of the adage; 'careful what you get your joy from'.

but to your point. as we have moved to a lower energy lifestyle i am always behind with my to do lists.

besides the wood only for heat- i broke down & got a gas splitter as prep $ was available & hope to sell/trade it as others need one & i have more 'hands/backs' available-, the seedlings[yes they are a joy - but require constant attention- watering some days 2x], dishes by hand, scratch cooking, not to mention the fact that we have 10 dogs, and chickens as well. my wife works; & i get to here.

a peasant lifestyle is lots & lots of work; not that i by any stretch fill those shoes.

in return i get to be outside in nature, & with our dogs during the day. i get exercise, enough i can eat all i desire w/o weight problems. i have a sense of purpose.

this recent contrast was stark: i fired up the tractor/frontend loader to get several 'lifting' jobs done. i figure i got about 30 hard labor hours done in less than an hour- work that i could not do continuously, even at a slow pace. humbling, & a little scary re what we'll have to deal with.

I tend to do this a lot with language--stretch the boundaries of meanings. I think this comes from a desire to break down what I believe are artificial categories. The difference between a healthy past time and a dangerous addiction can be a matter of degree, and one can slide into another--perhaps in a good way.

When I wrote about Thermodynamics of Local Foods ( the engineers got on my case for how I used the First Law. Well, sorry, but biologists have extended the use from engine efficiencies to living systems and perhaps if you are not a biologist you don't know that.

I like sitting on the deck listening to the wind blow thru the trees when my ears are not ringing. I have a little dog(Abby) that I play ball with. My wife named the dog. I wanted to call it cracker because it's fur is the color of crackers but my wife said I couldn't stand in the yard and yell cracker. I love to walk in my woods in the winter when the bugs are asleep. Stand beside the little stream that runs thru my property and just listen. My ears rings so bad now I have to be next to the stream to hear it. I don't see my grandchildren often enough. I try to remember to take my pills everyday so I can stay alive. It goes so fast.

we have a stream that is whitewater after a rain. as you say music most anytime- though ours is near along the road- but after a rain can hear it from the porch.

'cracker, get over here' ?- ) Great name for a dog but I'm guessing your yard must by south of the Mason-Dixon Line ?- )

Those ringing ears related to meds or more to the cacophony of something like ironworkers banging steel pans down on the steel trusses over head while a loose tracked cat roars around your feet and pushes dirt over your boot tops as you stumble around a ditch laying conduit? The on site workout has so many benefits people in the health clubs miss, toxic spills, volatile vapors, 120 dcb background noise, carbon monoxide laced fogs, and the list goes on...

Hang in there ?- )

What we are talking about is mood regulation. I think it is probably not very accurate to call engaging activities addictions, but they do help regulate our moods. The ingestion of opiates is quite different from running even though endorphins are involved with both. For purposes of our discussion, I won't quibble about this too much. Mikhail Czikszentmihalyi, a University of Chicago psychologist, wrote a book in the 1990's called Flow in which he described the mental processes associated with very engaging activities which require sustained attention and skill development. Carpentry, sports of all kinds, gardening, painting and myriad other activities which capture our interest can be vehicles through which we transport ourselves through time and space in altered fashion. That is, our perception of time changes to either speed up or slow down while we are engage in our pursuits. These activities are organizing and encourage brain development. The experience of them is quite pleasurable. Engaging in addictive behaviors with drugs, for example, may impair brain development and create behavioral disorganization through ritual patterns which interfere with executive functioning, memory, et al. Cocaine, while quite exciting to the pleasure centers, tends to burn them out so that ordinary activities are not pleasurable. Engaging activities, which Nate describes as habituating slowly, grow in pleasure over a long period of time without any harm to brain structures or processes.

rdberg42 wrote

These activities are organizing and encourage brain development. The experience of them is quite pleasurable.

And possibly counteracting the downsides of the 'unhealthy'?
I came across this study recently, admittedly in the medical context of serious pathology following 'recent on-set' schizophrenia, but the point is that brain changes follow from the interventions, gray matter increases. Brain work and type of brain work is important. Follows on from effort; social interaction, learning, etc

Cognitive enhancement therapy "can protect against gray matter loss and may even support gray matter growth in medial temporal areas of the brain in service of cognitive enhancement among patients with early course schizophrenia," Keshavan and colleagues wrote online in Archives of General Psychiatry. ... "both innovative cognitive exercises and psychoeducation that foster the development of social-cognitive abilities and effective social interaction,"

I love the feeling of Flow. Sometimes it gets me in trouble. About once or twice per month I am late picking up my boy from school because of it. Then the phone rings and I snap out of it and look at the clock and rush out the door.

Hi there Jason, excellent post. I'm so glad that someone has finally formalised my old saying that "Well you've got to be addicted to something, you may as well make it something healthy"

That was the justification for being obsessed with sport in general, and skating in particular, although the link was never made to interactions with the broader world system. Thanks for making that link explicit. Now it seems a good time to start using that saying again, but need to get re-addicted to something healthy. That reminds me to fix my BMX - anyone know where I can get a 14mm hub axle and chunky cones (to fit the drive side of a rear wheel from a Wethepeople Element 2007 model)?

As others have said, I don't know if addictions is the right term, but what low impact activities calm me?

The Grateful Dead - most of their shows are available free on the internet, and this always calms me. My office is very loud, so I stream their shows and put on my headphones at work. I also listen at night before I go to sleep (or don't sleep, like tonight).

My dog - I know that pets do have an ecological footprint, but I often stay home to hang out with the dog rather than going out to do other higher impact activities. In any case, she calms me and helps mitigate the fear caused by my next addiction...

TOD - not calming, but definitely an addiction.

I usually listen to The Grateful Dead on while reading TOD, Veneta/1972 is my fave at the moment.
My healthy addictions are bicycling, vegetable gardening, and brewing beer, with beer as a recent addition last year. All three are rather low impact and can contribute to a simple life.

What motivates people?

Research Into Procrastination Shows Surprising Findings

Steel has also come up with the E=mc2 of procrastination, a formula he's dubbed Temporal Motivational Theory, which takes into account factors such as the expectancy a person has of succeeding with a given task (E), the value of completing the task (V), the desirability of the task (Utility), its immediacy or availability (Γ) and the person's sensitivity to delay (D).

It looks like this and uses the Greek letter Γ (capital gamma): Utility = E x V / ΓD

This theory was developed to explain why people procrastinate, but it also explains why people choose a "quick fix" over less immediate or less rewarding tasks. These ideas have already been explored here in different forms, in particular the subjective nature of "Value". To achieve healthy addictions, it is a question of redefining value away from animal instinct, and decreasing D, ie being more patient.

It essentially restates the obvious, but makes sense. Utility increases by expecting success and a high value reward, and reduces with the longer it takes to achieve (multiplied by a patience factor).

I am pretty bad at finishing things, so I remind myself of the satisfaction I will get by completing a long project, rather than choose something else which gives immediate satisfaction.

Something you said got me thinking about a habit of mine. When I am eating food I always eat the okay parts first and save the best bite for last. Not all foods really work for this, but I do find myself doing it often enough to know it has become an ingrained habit.

Also when doing some tasks I save the best part of the task for the last. Right now I can't find the words to reason out why I do this.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

I understand what Jason is trying to say, and I'm not trying to ruin the party, but as a recovering addict myself, I do feel the need to point out that there is no such thing as a healthy addiction. Addictions are by definition self destructive. If a behavior isn't causing any harm, or is constructive, than it's not an addiction; it may be compulsive, but it's not an addiction.

There are definitely activities that build and foster healthy addictions. Ever try exercising most days for years then go a few days without? As with negative addictions, alcohol, cigarettes, there are also withdrawl and side effects that accompany absence of the healthy activity.

Thanks, you two, for this hilarious little exchange revealing the threadbare logic of this whole enterprise.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

I have a healthy disease called addiction, and if I don't seek treatment for this addiction it is my fault, but if I do seek treatment for this addiction it is the credit of my higher power (which is not God because the term higher power, too, is whatever I choose it to mean), but it turns out I don't actually need treatment for this particular addiction because it is by definition (that is, my own definition), a healthy disease.

This disease that I have is pointing out stinkin thinkin like:

I tend to do this a lot with language--stretch the boundaries of meanings. I think this comes from a desire to break down what I believe are artificial categories. The difference between a healthy past time and a dangerous addiction can be a matter of degree, and one can slide into another--perhaps in a good way.

Thy master hath spoken.

perhaps in a good way

Jason was doing okay until he added that qualification. I've not known dangerous addictions to progress to healthy pass times--that one way movement seems to be part of the essence of dangerous addiction. Of course the human race has many members and there may be the exceptional case or two.

Using a term like addiction lightly isn't all that big a sin if you aren't in the company of true recovering addicts. If one is present a simple acknowledging of the point and putting "" around the word addiction in the rest of the post might be good manners--of course my manners weren't that good but that is beside the point.

Now the master has spoken ?- )

"Are you depleted mentally or physically by the activity, or are you stronger or more skilled as a result?"

Enjoyed reading this post, thanks.

There are different states of mental and physical exhaustion, I've experienced both. Negative exhaustions is often the result of sleep deprivation, over indulgence of drugs/alcohol, and strenuous personal relationships. Positive exhaustion often coincides with rigorous physical activity and mental exertion. Mental and physical fatigue if a result from healthy activities can be very positive. This leads to better sleep, contentment, and mental clarity. The mind and body repair itself and return with renewed strength. I engage in at least an hour of high aerobic activity almost every day. Personally, I think we would see vast societal benefits if people would increase their caloric burn and activity level. People, esp children, have become much too sedentary and obesity is becoming a problem of epic proportions. In addition to Big Pharma this is the main driver behind sky rocketing health care costs.
Get out and walk, run, ride a bike, swim, etc. There are so many activities that almost everybody can find something pleasurable that will raise their heart rates for an extended period of time. Eat well, be physically and mentally active, and sleep well.

John - you are so right.

The exhausted feeling one gets when completing something satisfying is one of the greatest emotions known to man.

Great post, Jason. Now re-posted at EB with a mention of this discussion:

I've been thinking about this a lot over the years, having seen the bad effects of unhealthy additions.

Before my father died, I was working too hard, eating too much, drinking too much coffee and soda. I'm ashamed to say that some nights I'd veg out and watch hours of stupid television. What a downer!

Afterwards I took up just about every outdoor activity I could find: hiking, kayaking, bicycling, skiing. Bicycling is especially good because you it can replace driving. Sometimes it's faster (e.g. around town), sometimes it's slower, but you have replaced a stupid boring chore with exhilarating exercise.

In the past few years I was spending too much time behind the computer. Energy Bulletin was worthwhile, but it was not healthy to spend so much time on it and to feel so pressured.

For replacement activities, I took up learning foreign languages (French, German, Latin, etc.). That was good because it kept my mind working without triggering "peak oil" thoughts. The last few weeks I've been thinking about returning to music again, and really doing it right this time.

As a solitary guy, I've found it very good to take part in local group activities (garden circle, play-reading circle, transition town, hikes with friends, visiting family). I've also got to say that the peak oil and transition communities are full of fascinating, alive people, and it's wonderful to be around them.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

Hi Bart,

Bicycling is especially good because you can replace driving

If the gods wanted us to walk, they would not have given us the most perfect of all machines: The Bicycle! This should be the first addiction of all energy conscious, fun loving TODers. If you can get out of your house under you own power, there is a bike/trike that is perfect for you. If you are old, cycling is the way to restore your feeling of exuberant youthfulness!

Amen, Brother Dave! I remember getting on a bicycle again as an adult. It felt like flying.

And coffee to boot.

Java Blend Coffee Roasters owner Jim Dikaios oils customer’s bicycle chains while they sip his brew.



I really hope to do a bike tour in your area someday.

I hope so too, Dave. And if you ever need a little inspiration, look to the Houston Police Department....



Yeah, biking is definitely a natural high ... well, to the extent that using any product of industrial civilization can be termed 'natural'.

Also, I do not see what's particularly useful in stretching the use of the word 'addiction' to include activities such as gardening, playing musical instruments, or swimming.

I believe we are just bags of chemicals. You have to find the right combination for happiness. Fortunately, I love to learn. Give me a book on just about anything and I will dive into it with glee. I sit in a chair consuming little energy and roam the world in my thoughts through books. Of course I make it a point to get out and exercise too. Would I say I am addicted to reading? Well, I would sure miss it if I couldn't do it but I'd survive without physical withdrawal. But any activity that requires just your body can work as a healthy occupation of time.

Oh, and I should also mention that if you are depressed, check out drugs for it. I spent half of my 60 years being depressed and thinking I could work my way out of it. I found a drug, Effexor, that changed my life, put me on an even keel where everyday is a welcome thing. I never, never could have escaped the depression without it. I tried stopping the drug, determined that I would lick the depression with mental effort. As I gradually lowered the dosage, the depression gradually came back. So I'm back on the stuff for the rest of my life and seriously wonder if my mother, who was terribly depressed, might have had the same drug work for her. Unfortunately, she died in her sleep at 73 without ever finding an escape. Moral of this paragraph - it has nothing to do with moral strength or lack of effort - get the drug you need.

Being a bag of chemicals, you not only have to use those you have but you need to find the one(s) you need.

I'm addicted to refining and developing my square foot solar cooker.
Besides costing less than $20 to build, I've discovered that it will-
Cook 20+ ounces of rice in about 2 hours - unattended.
Under pressure fully cook soybeans in a day.
Disinfect 32 oz. of water at a time.
Distill using the sun, both water and other liquids.
Now I just got a book on making home-made cheese, and will next set it up to make some.
And, when not using the jars for the above, I am making raisin sherry in two of the gallon jars.
Oh, and I am addicted to Peak Oil sites....

Hello,I'm new to TOD and found this site while feeding my news addiction(I was looking for information on the deepwater horizon,thanks bp you shouldn't have)Of course I was hooked after the first article and accompanying comments,I don't think TOD's a bad addiction at all,I guess you could overdo it but I guess that's the importance of developing a variety of healthy addictions.I've felt for a while that it's key to solving a great many of society's current problems,I think its necessary.That junkie you see turning tricks on the street might possibly be holding something that could drastically change the course of humanity if convinced of a healthier hobby,people are way too important to throw away or lock up.Some of my healthy habits - snowboarding,bass,hiking,travel,news,ect.And oh yeah I've got a wood stove too.Thanks for your post and good luck with your garden.

Welcome! You can learn a lot on this site if you take the time, and have an open mind.