Addiction, conventionally perceived as a damaging phenomenon, is under reconsideration in light of the concept of “positive addiction.” A recent study by Joyzy Pius Egunjobi investigates this concept in an unusual context: habitual prayer.
Egunjobi’s research explores the notion of ‘prayer addiction’ through the lens of William Glasser’s theory of “positive addiction.” This approach reframes our traditional understanding of addiction, considering potential beneficial facets when the subject of fixation is prayer. The results present a nuanced perspective, fostering a new discourse on addiction’s multifaceted impact on an individual’s life.
“The term’ positive addiction’ is credited to William Glasser, who claims that positive addictions strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying and enable us to be more confident, more creative, happier, and usually in much better health,” Egunjobi explains. “Positive addictions, unlike their negative cousins, alcoholism, and other drugs addiction, enhance life.”
The term addiction often conjures up images of suffering, abuse, and degradation. “The addict,” as they are pejoratively called, seems always to worsen, failing to fulfill their social and personal responsibilities. Yet, our understanding of addiction has drastically shifted over the last few decades. This shift started with questions regarding the necessity for addicts to become abstinent. It then continued through the expansion of behavioral addictions, which eliminated the chemical aspect of addiction. Finally, it arrived at wondering whether some addictions could be a net positive for an individual.
In this new article, Egunjobi first had to define “prayer addiction” operationally. This involved using the criteria already created for other behavioral addictions and drawing upon prior work on prayer addiction. These addictions often include an inability to resist engaging in the behavior, a sense of “loss of control” regarding the behavior, failed efforts to reduce or stop the behavior, and the behavior interfering with social and interpersonal activities and responsibilities.
Like all other addictions, defining and measuring prayer addiction involves assessing the frequency, impact, and experience of those who may (or may not) be suffering from it. The criteria for prayer addiction include negative consequences due to praying, such as guilt feelings or a bad conscience because one has not prayed, hurting or neglecting oneself or others because of praying, and having their prayer habit affect someone or something important.
Yet, these criteria are somewhat loose if you examine them. For instance, who defines whether or not the behavior hurts social and interpersonal activities? A person skipping family dinners to go to the casino may have a bigger problem than someone spending all their time honing a skill. Egunjobi uses the story of George Schuba from the book The Boys of Summer to illustrate this point. Schuba, a baseball player, was known for his “natural” swing, which resulted from years of practice.
Schuba practiced his swing so frequently and consistently that it resembled addiction (inability to stop, persistent and intrusive thoughts, feeling of loss of control), but this ultimately led to success. Egunjobi identifies this as a “positive addiction” using the six criteria outlined by William Glasser:
- It is something noncompetitive that you choose to do, and you can devote approximately an hour per day.
- You can do it easily, and it doesn’t take much mental effort to do it well.
- You can do it alone or rarely with others, but it does not depend upon others to do it.
- You believe it has some value (physical, mental, or spiritual) for you.
- You believe that if you persist at it, you will improve—but this is completely subjective—you need to be the only one who measures the improvement.
- The activity must have a quality that you can do without criticizing yourself. If you can’t accept yourself during this time, the activity will not be addicting (emphasis original).
Several studies have found that prayer can be beneficial. It reduces stress, decreases heart rate and blood pressure while praying regulates breathing, increases empathy, builds relationships with God, others, and self, and promotes emotional and spiritual health. But what happens if someone is addicted to prayer? Would it still be beneficial?
Egunjobi designed an instrument, the Prayer Attitude and Addiction Test (PAAT), to measure this possibility. It includes questions about demographics, prayer attitudes, and potential symptoms of prayer addiction. This survey was distributed to 203 Christians aged 20 and above through an online portal.
Of the 203 responses, only 179 were valid enough to be included in the measurements. 71.4% of respondents considered themselves “religious,” while 8.7% identified as spiritual, and the remainder some combination of spiritual/religious, with only 1% considering themselves neither spiritual nor religious. The study also found that 94% of the respondents prayed daily, and the overwhelming majority (86.5%) prayed at least five times weekly.
Regarding the prayer’s ability to stop, Egunjobi asked if they would cease praying if the phone rang, with 81.9% saying they would ignore it, silence the phone, and continue praying. However, if some were interrupted in person, 54.3% of the respondents stated they would cease praying and attend to the person who interrupted them.
In relation to losing control, the majority of participants (65.4%) reported at least one instance within the last six months where they couldn’t stop praying once they began. About half of these participants (46.9%) admitted that their commitment to prayer caused them to neglect certain responsibilities. Interestingly, despite 21.9% of participants noting concern from friends or relatives about their prayer habits, a significant proportion (46%) could not alter their approach to prayer.
Moreover, participants revealed experiencing adverse effects both from neglecting their prayer habits and indulging in them excessively. A substantial majority (83.7%) experienced guilt or a troubled conscience when they did not engage in prayer. About a third (33.2%) stated that their prayer habits had impacted various aspects of their lives, including work, meetings, or other essential duties. Similarly, 20.1% confessed that their prayer habits led to neglect or harm to themselves or others physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Considering these findings, Egunjobi identified that roughly 13.4% of respondents met the criteria for prayer addiction. When examining whether prayer addiction could be regarded as positive, it was found that the adverse effects were comparable to those found in Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) addictions and other behavioral addictions. Among those identified with prayer addiction, 20.1% neglected self-care activities such as eating or interacting with their family, and 33.2% reported neglecting familial or friendly relationships due to their compulsion to pray.
The study does have limitations, primarily that it focuses on Christianity and Christian prayer. The findings might differ for other Abrahamic traditions or other forms of religion and spirituality. Another issue is the definition of “positive.” There are debates around the efficacy of prayer and how positivity correlates to the core beliefs of the religion from which the prayer originates.
However, at a time when the overdose crisis is still escalating, debates around treatment models continue, and discussions about the nature of addiction abound, shifting the focus from negativity to positivity about addiction could stimulate further research into and understanding the phenomenon of addiction. Expanding the definition of addiction might help reduce stigma, increase awareness and understanding, and direct treatments and policies toward more success.
Egunjobi, Joyzy Pius. (2023). Prayer Addiction and William Glasser’s Positive Addiction. International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science. VII. 10.47772/IJRISS.2023.70532. (Link)