Gratitude is often talked about within the world of recovery. This isn’t just a tradition reserved for Thanksgiving , but a practice that can help anyone at any time of year. Research has shown that focusing on gratitude and creating a gratitude list has many benefits, including:
Improves physical health.
Improves mental and emotional health
Helps with sleeping
Helps people find meaning in life and in their work
Makes people more likely to engage in exercise
Changes one’s mindset
Gratitude within Recovery
Although gratitude may be described or expressed differently, it has a similar underlying meaning. Gratitude is an expression of something we are thankful for. It is taking that feeling of thankfulness and showing the world that we appreciate it. This is talked about in recovery to help change our mindset. For many of us, when we entered recovery it was at one the lowest moments in our lives. By forcing us to focus on the positive, a gratitude list can help us to start to help us shift our perspective.Two leading psychologists who have studied gratitude are Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. One of their studies found that those who wrote about gratitude daily felt better about their lives, were more optimistic and even exercised more than those who focused on frustrations and things that caused aggravation.
In my experience, my understanding of gratitude has evolved and changed over the course of my recovery. For example, early in recovery I was told about the attitude of gratitude and the importance of it. However, I didn't understand it or appreciate it until further down my recovery journey. In the beginning, I thought, “yeah i understand I should be grateful I am alive, that I have a roof over my head, and food to eat, but do you really know what I have been through and that I am not happy to be here?” Six months into my recovery journey there was a shift where I started to really appreciate what I have and what I was experiencing. As corny as it may sound, I started to embrace the little things, like the trees outside my window, the cool breeze, and hearing someone laugh. My mindset also shifted about my addiction. When I entered recovery, I saw my addiction as a burden and something that I was ashamed of, but today I am grateful for my addiction, my recovery, and the way of life it has introduced me to.
Feel the Feelings
It is important to remember that just because we are grateful for something or practicing gratitude does not mean that we should discount what we are feeling or experiencing. When we enter into recovery, life still happens and it is not always easy. As we are faced with challenges, set backs, and losses we need to recognize and acknowledge what is happening and what we are feeling. In these moments it may be more difficult to think about what we are grateful for, but these are the times when it will most help us.
Take the Gratitude Challenge
I challenge you to write down three things each day that you are grateful for over the next thirty days. You can do this in a journal or take this challenge with a friend or family member to hold each other accountable. When you write things, try not to repeat anything. Also remember they do not have to be enormous or grandiose ideas. They can be as simple as, I am grateful for coffee.
7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round, 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/?sh=44dfe006183c
Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, 2003. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf
Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.