How can something as simple as being grateful with an attitude of gratitude help with addiction recovery?
From a young age, perhaps influenced by media, societal messages, or limiting self beliefs, many develop an attitude based upon lack – looking for what we don’t have. Things that are missing in our lives. Always striving for more.
The simple act of being happy or content with our lot is often overlooked. Maybe even frowned upon.
What if we’ve been ignoring the one thing that can boost health and happiness and overall quality of life in sobriety?
Science has now proven that gratitude promotes health and wellbeing in many areas of our lives and socially such as by promoting empathy.
“It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.”
In this article, we’ll explore why gratitude is vital in addiction recovery, and beyond.
What is Gratitude & What Does it Have to do With Recovery?
Gratitude is a frame of mind. One of grace and thankfulness for what we have in our lives. The word gratitude originates from the Latin word gratia, which literally translates as “grace”. Another meaning of grace is “courteous goodwill.”
If you’ve been around the recovery network for any length of time, you’ll be well aware of the importance of giving back. In fact, this is the basis of Step 12 of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. You will hear reference to the importance of an attitude of gratitude. Goodwill doesn’t just mean giving back, it also means feeling and behaving in a friendly, helpful or cooperative manner.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
– Oprah Winfrey
Having feelings of gratitude can literally reframe how you see the world. It’s all too common to take things for granted, fear not having enough, feel victimised, and blame other people, places and things for your troubles. But that worldview can be joyless, and not compatible with healthy, sustained sober living in recovery. All aspects of life suffer when you undervalue your life. Gratitude literally has the power to turn your life around.
Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude
It can be tempting to think of the mindset of gratitude as woo-woo and not important in recovery.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
Gratitude practice has been scientifically proven to create lasting positive effects on your brain.
Psychologically, the feeling of gratitude produces feelings of well-being by producing happy hormones, and physically by reducing blood pressure and promoting better sleep. Other studies on gratitude have found that simply writing a few sentences about what you are grateful for daily can result in fewer visits to the doctor.
Another research study followed 411 people who were asked to write about early memories. The focus was on finding people that had impacted their lives and then following up with a letter of gratitude. The practice was found to result in higher happiness scores – for a whole month.
The Role of Gratitude in Early Addiction Recovery
The first days, weeks and months of recovery and post-rehab are often the most difficult. Keeping motivated, mindful and being patient isn’t always easy. Living life on life’s terms can be a challenge. It takes time to change lifelong habits of thought, feeling and behavior. Sometimes these habits or belief systems are engrained from family members and ancestors.
It’s important to be patient with yourself. Focusing on things that you can be thankful for is an important and essential tool for early and sustained recovery. The next step is to practice being grateful for everything in your life – yes, even those people and experiences we don’t “like”. Every experience is an opportunity to be grateful for the lesson it presents and the choice of how to react.
Early Addiction Recovery
What happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol for 30 days after a period of excessive drinking or alcohol abuse? The timeline for recovering from drug or alcohol abuse begins within hours as the body which had become accustomed to the presence of alcohol goes into withdrawal as it readjusts. This can range from a typical ‘hangover’ to more extreme symptoms such as seizures requiring medical intervention. The following few days can be filled with highs and lows as your body attempts to get itself back in balance. This can be accompanied with sugar or other carb cravings.
Once you are a week or month into your recovery you’ll begin to experience health benefits.
It’s important that you are grateful for these small changes such as in your skin condition, sleep patterns, vitality, and mental clarity. Everything starts to feel better and brighter. Looking out for, and being grateful for these changes will keep you firmly on the path of recovery.
A month into your recovery your whole being will begin to change for the better. Additionally, your risk for mouth, liver and breast cancer reduces. Body, mind and spirit rejuvenate. Definitely something to be extremely grateful for!
Why Practice Gratitude in Addiction Recovery?
It’s easy to look at the negative aspects of a situation. Not because you’re being glum or cynical, it may have just become an engrained thought pattern. We need to train our brains to see things as they really are. We need to “re-mind” ourselves of the truth of who we really are. ‘Remind’ as in change your mind in thought and belief systems. For that, gratitude plays a massive role.
Rather than thinking about what you lack, how to get more stuff or simply wanting more (power, respect, love, money or drugs). Shift your focus to what you are thankful for.
“A grateful alcoholic will never drink again”
- Famous 12 step saying
Simply being grateful for today can be your first step. It’s not easy to stay grateful all the time, that’s why a gratitude practice is vital to keep us on track.
One easy way to shift your focus to an “attitude of gratitude” is to generously give to others. As noted earlier, gratitude means courteous goodwill. Volunteering or giving has been found to increase self-confidence, offering a sense of purpose and reducing feelings of anxiety, stress, and anger.
Gratitude Increases Serotonin
A grateful brain filled with thanksgiving produces both dopamine and serotonin. Neurotransmitters that impact mood, body temperature, and reward. Simply put – dopamine and serotonin are the two main neurotransmitters that make us feel good.
The practice of being grateful strengthens neural pathways associated with happiness. Feelings of gratitude also produce the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that encourages you to form stronger relationships. Oxytocin is also released when a mother has a baby, similarly promoting feelings of love and connectedness.
7 Ways for How to Practice Gratitude in Recovery
Like anything in life, gratitude takes practice. Our brains are continually forming new neural pathways, so why not make them ones of happiness and health?
There are several ways you can practice gratitude. The first is simple daily mindful effort. There are also several practices that you can take up to keep you focused on gratitude. Here are seven gratitude practices that you can start today:
1. Write a thank-you note
Write a thank-you note to someone to share your appreciation for them.
2. Write in a Gratitude Journal
Dedicate a notebook to gratitude. Then write out 5 things that you are grateful for, daily.
3. Create a Gratitude Jar
Write what you are grateful for, and why, on a note and place it in your gratitude jar daily.
4. Perform acts of kindness
Practice simple acts of kindness, not telling the recipient that you have performed the act. Simply be kind, with nothing expected in return. Being kind, giving of self, makes you grateful. It shifts your attitude to one of gratitude.
5. Mentally thank someone
Think about someone you appreciate and thank them mentally for what they’ve done.
A more traditional way to practice gratitude is to pray. Express gratitude for what you experience in life.
Quiet your mind, get present and be grateful for all of the blessings in your life. Practice acceptance of what is, letting go of judgment of right or wrong or good and bad. This helps develop your attitude of gratitude. ‘What is’, simply is. And ‘what is’ is an opportunity to be grateful for whatever ‘it is’ presents. Meditate on that.
Fostering your Attitude of Gratitude
Foster an “attitude of gratitude”. It takes practice and diligence. Through the lens of gratitude, life starts looking different. Problems become opportunities. Inward focused attention shifts to outward awareness of the abundance of life and possibilities.
Asking yourself what is great about your life today, how you can serve others. Taking up a simple daily gratitude practice can alter your perception of the world. Not just in your mind. The practice of gratitude, developing the attitude of gratitude, shifts your feelings to grateful ones, and thus affects your behavior.
All aspects of your body, mind and spirit improve with a daily gratitude practice. So what are you waiting for? Choose a gratitude practice and start now. One day at a time.
Developing an attitude of gratitude is just one aspect of recovery taught at Serenity Vista. Body, mind and spirit transformation is possible for you. Contact us to learn more.