We all know that having positive thoughts leads to experiencing more positive emotions. That’s why positive affirmations and visualizations have become so popular in many self-help systems. For many in recovery, cultivating positive thoughts on a consistent basis is an uphill battle. In sobriety, long buried feelings can surface. People may be haunted by perceived past failures, betrayals, abandonment, trauma, and low self-esteem, leading to levels of anxiety and depression that are hard to cope with.
This is where gratitude comes in. In many studies, those who practice gratitude on a daily basis have experienced measurable shifts in both physical and psychological wellness. Gratitude helps people to change their perspective on life, and to realize that they have resources to meet life’s difficulties with dignity and sobriety. When challenges arise, a positive mind set helps a person to see them as opportunities for growth, rather than obstacles to hide from or to fight against.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a state of mind, a way of thinking, and a feeling of joy and appreciation for the things you have. These things can be material—like a warm bed, clothes to wear, food, or a car, and they can also be the people in your life, opportunities, health, talents, and ideas. Gratitude does not depend on any outside circumstances. There are wealthy people who are miserable and poor people who are happy with their lives. An attitude of gratitude is looking for the good, emphasizing the good, and understanding that it’s better to build on a foundation of positive thoughts than a negative one. Gratitude is an antidote to negative thinking.
It may not feel easy in early recovery to feel grateful. Regret, shame, guilt, fear, overwhelm and loneliness are frequent companions. However, instead of allowing the negative emotions to spiral and build, taking you down, it’s possible to generate positive feelings simply by shifting your focus to commonplace things. Being grateful you are in recovery, and have the chance to repair and rebuild your life is a starting place.
Here are some tips for developing a gratitude practice:
- Take a moment to breathe and look around you, finding something to appreciate. You might want to set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to take “gratitude” breaks throughout the day. Slowing down and finding something to appreciate in your environment, like the green of the grass, or the smell of food cooking is a great way to integrate gratitude in your day.
- Pick a beautiful journal and decide a time of day when you can spend five minutes writing a gratitude list. Usually first thing upon waking or right before bed work best. You can start with a list of three things, then move to five as it gets easier. By writing down what you are grateful for on a daily basis, you will train your brain to search for the good things in your life.
- Express your appreciation to those around you who have made your life better, even in the smallest ways. The expression of appreciation will bring happiness to the person receiving it, and it will allow you to focus on someone outside of yourself.
- Contribute to your community by doing things for others. Volunteer to help those who are less fortunate than you are– help walk animals in a shelter, read to the blind, or lend your talents to a cause or an organization you care about.
Practicing gratitude will help to maintain a positive outlook, even on days when difficult circumstances or emotions arise. Studies confirm that negative feelings are dangerous triggers that can lead to relapse. Taking an active role in resisting the temptation to give into negative feelings is one of the most important tools for maintaining recovery.
Curious About How Grateful You Are?
Psychologists Mitchel Adler and Nancy Fagley developed a scale to measure feelings of gratitude. The Greater Good Science Center has created a quiz based on their research. If you’re wondering whether you might need some improvement in this area, (and for more tips) check it out:
We’re grateful for you! And we’re here to help when you need us. Call: 888-292-0870