The Importance of Gratitude in Recovery

Every year, around the holidays, gratitude becomes a hot topic.  The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratus which means ‘pleasing; welcome; agreeable’.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”  Gratitude is more than a state of mind, it is also an action.  In recovery, gratitude is a foundational principle that helps to diminish the self-centered nature of addiction and cultivate a positive mindset.  

Developing the quality of gratitude can take time and effort.  For those in recovery, maintaining gratitude can help reduce risk of relapse, promote a positive mindset, and act as an important tool in managing difficult emotions or situations.

Gratitude and Recovery  

Chances are if you have been in recovery for more than a day or two, you have heard someone talk about gratitude.  As a core principle of many recovery programs, the word gratitude gets thrown around a lot. After hearing phrases like, “gratitude is an action word”, “grateful recovering addict/alcoholic”, or “write a gratitude list,” repeatedly, you may begin to question exactly how gratitude factors into long-term recovery.

Research confirms what those in recovery have long known – gratitude leads to a greater sense of well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction1. Studies have shown that grateful people are less likely to experience anger, hostility, and depression and are more likely to experience emotional openness, healthy relationships, positive mindsets, and resiliency1.  It is easy to understand why these traits would be important in long-term recovery.  While the benefits of gratitude are clear, learning how to cultivate and practice gratitude can be tricky, especially early in recovery.

Practicing Gratitude in Recovery

While in the throes of active addiction, the ability to experience gratitude may be diminished.  For some people, gratitude may be a foreign concept all together.  There are simple ways to incorporate gratitude enhancing activities into any daily routine.

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Choose a time daily or weekly to write down your blessings.  Take an inventory of what went right or specific things you are feeling grateful for.  Sometimes it helps to set a goal defining how many items you’ll write about, such as three or five things you are grateful for.  In addition to enhancing a the feeling of gratitude, seeing all of  the people, places, and situations we are grateful for ,in writing, can help to dispel feelings of self-pity, doubt, or resentment that can creep in.
  2. Focus on what matters. Throughout the day, take time to focus on the relationships, activities, and situations that bring you joy. Bringing into focus the things in life that bring us happiness, no matter how simple, will induce greater feelings of gratitude.
  3. Show your appreciation.  Writing thank you notes, saying ‘thank you’ in the moment, or sincerely complimenting others are all ways to actively show appreciation for those around you.  Expressing your true appreciation for others in your life will strengthen your relationships and lead to greater feelings of satisfaction.
  4. Be of service. Volunteering at a local organization, setting up our home group, or cleaning the house are all examples of acts of service that can cultivate gratitude.  Being of service connects us to something greater than ourselves and fosters feelings of humility and gratitude that are essential for successful recovery.

Taking time to focus on gratitude, especially during the holidays, allows us to be present, content, and feel more positive emotion.  Just being grateful for the gift of recovery is a great place to start your gratitude practice.

References

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890-905.

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 7(11), 18–22.

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