Gratitude and being grateful are terms heard often in recovery. Developing an attitude of gratitude comes easily for some and for others takes some practice and habit-building. However, no matter how you come by it, practicing gratitude in your daily life can transform it from one of doom and gloom to one of peace and joy. This is particularly true for people in recovery from alcohol or drugs.
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being grateful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Basically, gratitude is seeing what is good in life and the goodness in others. The flip side is being resentful and seeing what’s wrong in life, not what’s right. And no matter which way we choose to look, there will be plenty to be found of both.
Being grateful is important and a key to happiness for all. However, when it comes to anyone who is in recovery or working to get sober, gratitude is essential. Many people who are revered for their spiritual work and success have touted the importance of gratitude. Here are some quotes from them:
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
“Be thankful for what you have and you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
– Oprah Winfrey
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
– Maya Angelou
“The struggle ends where the gratitude begins.”
– Neale Donald Walsh
As one can see, there are many people who have used gratitude in their own lives and attest to how powerful and healing it can be. From Aesop to Oprah Winfrey, the power of gratitude has transformed lives and healed relationships.
Why Gratitude Matters and How It Can Transform Recovery
Most everyone has heard the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” this simple question illustrates being grateful and not being grateful. When we walk through life and see everything that is wrong, everything that isn’t going our way, everything that we wish was different, we will continue to see more and more of the same.
According to the laws of the universe, like attracts like. This is true too with our thoughts. When we begin thinking negative thoughts or finding something wrong with a person or situation, these thoughts grow. Have you ever become annoyed or frustrated by a person or something they’ve done? We all have. But what happens for most is when we start to think those judgemental and negative thoughts we think of more things about the person or situation we don’t like. The thoughts can snowball until we’ve worked ourselves into a state of restlessness and discontent.
For anyone who is in recovery, these thoughts can be detrimental. Many times people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD) can quickly go down this path of negative thinking. And, for those in recovery, this can lead to the development of resentments. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, resentment is the number one offender and can kill those with AUD or SUD.
“Resentment is the “number one’’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (p.64, Alcoholics Anonymous)
One of the best ways to overcome this spiritual malady is to practice gratitude. And while it may not come easily at first, just like negative thinking is a habit for some, being grateful can become a habit too.
As mentioned, when a person begins to think negatively it often just grows and grows until they are upset, angry, bitter, and eventually resentful. The same is true of positive thinking or being grateful. When you begin to think good thoughts they too will grow and grow. Like attracts like. This is true for both negative thinking, positive thoughts, and gratitude.
When we begin to stop seeing what’s wrong and begin to see and appreciate what’s right, our lives will be transformed.
Gratitude is Good for Your Body, Mind, and Spirit
Did you ever wake up in the morning and something ‘bad’ happens? You stub your toe on the way out of bed or you spill your coffee all over your clean shirt? Everyone has had this happen or something similar. For a lot of people, this seemingly negative event sets off a train of thought and then everything seems to go wrong for the rest of the day. You’ll hear people say, “I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning.” This reflects the negative thinking that just draws more and more to it.
However, if you are able to take that negative event and laugh it off or just forget about it, the day often turns around and is a good one. Of course, we all have our ‘bad days’ and that’s okay too. The key is to not let the bad days take over or become too frequent. Many times people think, sure but I can’t control what goes on around me and what others do and say. And while this is completely true, what we can control is our thoughts. We can make them positive and grateful or negative and toxic.
When you choose to think with a grateful mindset, you will improve your physical, mental, and spiritual health. All of which makes for a healthier, happier, and more fulfilled you.
In fact, according to research, gratitude can have the following effects:
- Improves mental health
A research paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2020, it showed that being grateful regularly could diminish symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Boosts immune system
Research into the benefits of regular gratitude practices shows an increase in the body’s ability to fight illness including reducing the risk of heart failure.
- Heals and improves relationships
We all know how good it feels to be appreciated. When we show gratitude towards others we are in relationships with, they too feel better and the relationship can heal and improve. Some studies have shown that when gratitude is expressed in romantic relationships feelings of happiness lasted through the following day.
- Builds optimism
Being grateful and optimistic are similar yet different. When we are optimistic we see good outcomes in even the most trying situations. Practicing gratitude helps people become more optimistic. In studies, those individuals who were considered optimistic had better overall health and in some cases aged better too.
How to Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude may seem easy to some but daunting to others. For many, our brains have been wired and become accustomed to thinking one way—often negative. This can be especially true for those in recovery. Those with addiction issues, sometimes have maladjusted ways of thinking which become habits. These thoughts, as mentioned, can tend to be negative, always seeing what is wrong and what we don’t want.
Becoming grateful is a simple as building new ways of thinking. This can be accomplished through some simple practices. And just as with any other habit, with regular practice, grateful thoughts can become your everyday way of thinking.
Here are some ways to begin practicing gratitude right now:
One way is to begin journaling about the things in your life that you are grateful for right now. Are you grateful to be in recovery from alcohol or drugs? Are you grateful to have a second chance? Are you grateful for your eyes? Your ears? Your health? While we can look at each one of these things and find an issue, the power is in finding the good in each.
Sure, maybe you are new in recovery and keep telling yourself you’ve wasted years using and should’ve gotten sober sooner. Or, you can be grateful that you are sober now. Many people die each day from AUD and SUD.
In addition to the big things, think of the little things too.
Making a list of ten things you are grateful for each morning is a great way to start off the day in a positive way. This list can include anything at all. From new shoes to just having shoes to wear, when we sit and take a look there really is so much to be grateful for each day.
This concept is much like a vision board. Using a bulletin board or poster board put pictures, graphics, or words that help you remember what you’re grateful for in life. For example, putting a picture of your dog or children on the board will remind you each day that they are both things in life to be grateful for on a daily basis.
This is a great and fun way to practice gratitude. Get a jar of any kind and when something good happens write it on a strip of paper and put it in the jar. Then each day (once you get some stockpiled) take one out and remember what you have to be happy about.
Gratitude guided meditations
There are many guided meditations on different meditation apps or YouTube that are free. Look for ones on gratitude and listen to them regularly. This will not only help you calm your mind but also find things to be grateful for you may overlook.
No matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs, taking some time each day to say thank you to your Higher Power is a great way to cultivate more things to be grateful for in your life. Being thankful brings more to be thankful for into your life. This multiplies and before you know it your life is beyond your wildest dreams.
Volunteering or being in service is one of the best ways to begin to get grateful. Not only does volunteering help us get out of our heads and inot the present moment. It can also show us those who are less fortunate. This helps us to see and appreciate the good things in our lives now.
Showing Gratitude to Yourself
It’s important to understand that the relationship you have with yourself will often be reflected in your relationships with others. Many in recovery, particularly early recovery, feel guilty for past mistakes and beat themselves up. While acknowledging mistakes and making amends is vital for long-term recovery learning to love yourself is too.
Take time to look at yourself and your life and be grateful to yourself. If you are in recovery, you have accomplished so much just by being sober or trying to get sober. Thank yourself for showing up each day to try again, to grow, to face challenges, and to work on being the best version of yourself. Often, those in recovery, forget to show gratitude to themselves for all they have overcome and accomplished.
Practicing gratitude is a great way to feel better and help those you love feel appreciated. If you are in recovery transforming the negative thoughts into positive ones can begin with gratitude. If you aren’t in recovery but struggling with an alcohol or drug use issue, reach out for help. Futures Recovery Healthcare treats individuals with alcohol use disorder, substance use disorders, and mental health disorders. We are here for you and ready to help. Learn more about our three addiction treatment programs or our mental health program online or call us at 866-804-2098.