Gratitude in Recovery

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Gratitude is defined as “the quality of acknowledging and being thankful for the people, experiences, and things in our life”, as well as a willingness to show appreciation for and return kindnesses. It means recognizing the blessings and goodness in our lives, even during challenging and difficult times. Gratitude is usually accompanied by feelings of joy, contentment, and humility. It is a worthwhile trait for any person to pursue and practice, but all the more so when that person has gratitude while in recovery. 

Gratitude is a powerful antidote to resentment - a dangerous and degenerative emotion. According to AA’s “Big Book" [1]:

“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)

Gratitude in the A.A. Big Book is a central theme, however being grateful may not come easily at first. But like anything else, we can work on developing an “attitude of gratitude” until it becomes a habit.

The Importance of Gratitude in Recovery

So why is gratitude so important in recovery? Gratitude is a critical ingredient in any real, sustainable recovery lifestyle, for many reasons, as elaborated on below:

  • It shifts our focus.

Gratitude is powerful because it shifts our focus from negativity to positivity. Addiction is very often characterized by negativity; in relationships, thoughts, habits, and emotions. In recovery, we try to go to the reverse. Practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to begin focusing on the goodness in our life, and develop a joyous, optimistic outlook.

  • It helps us stay mindful.

Aside from the positive energy it brings, gratitude helps us to focus on the present moment and its blessings right now. We don’t want to dwell on the past and its mistakes, or the future and its unknown. This mindfulness helps us deal with stress, anxiety, and cravings in a healthy way.

  • It develops our humility.

Gratitude develops our humility. How so? Gratitude always begins by recognizing the contributions of others, acknowledging our weakness without them, and expressing appreciation for their help. This lets us to recognize our vulnerability, accept help, and realize we are never alone.

  • It lessens our entitlement.

Addiction often creates a sense of self-centeredness and entitlement, which will manifest itself in the selfish thinking and behaviors typical of an addict. Gratitude develops our humility and teaches us to recognize others’ contributions to our life. It trains us to shift our focus outward and look to see how we can be of service to help others.

  • It boosts our physical and emotional health.

Scientific research [2] has proven that gratitude actually improves our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When we are grateful, we are in a positive frame of mind, we see the good in others, we build healthier relationships, and we are optimistic about the future. We feel satisfied and content - all of which enables us to feel better in body, mind, and spirit.

  • It builds our resilience.

Gratitude is an effective tool for building resilience in ourselves. When we are grateful for what we have, we’re not broken by adversity, and we view challenges as opportunities for growth. Even a relapse will not discourage us from trying again, because we will view it not as a failure but as an opportunity to become even stronger.

7 Ways to Develop Gratitude in Addiction Recovery

Now that we’ve explored the many benefits that come with gratitude in recovery, you may ask – so how do I develop gratitude?

Below are some practical tips for developing gratitude while in recovery.

  1.   Do something for others every day.
    One great way to develop gratitude is by doing one kind thing for another each day. By looking to do for others rather than only ourselves, our focus turns from inward to outward. Any act of service – like visiting a sick friend, volunteering, or contributing to a charitable cause – builds our gratitude.
  2.    Keep a gratitude journal.
    Writing down all the things we have to be grateful for is a fantastic way of reminding ourselves of the goodness in our life. Start a gratitude journal, and list three things you are thankful for each day - whether small or significant. It can be a hot meal, a beautiful sunset, or an enjoyable conversation with a friend. Read through your journal from time to time and watch your gratitude grow.
  3. Focus on the good in others.
    It’s hard to be grateful for people in your life when all you see is their flaws. Try focusing on the positive qualities in those around you, and you’ll watch your perspective shift. The more you focus on the goodness in others, the more good you’ll see, and the more grateful you’ll be for their presence in your life.
  4.   Express your appreciation.
    Expressing your appreciation – whether verbally, physically, or in writing – is a powerful way of reinforcing and growing gratitude. Don’t leave your thankfulness as sentiment; show it! Take the time to say thank you, write a thank-you note, give a hug, or do a kindness in return. See the difference it makes.
  5.  Practice mindfulness.
    Another wonderful way to strengthen gratitude is by developing mindfulness. Pay attention to the present moment and savor every small positive experience that comes your way. Work on fully engaging yourself in every situation and soaking in each detail as you experience it, living one day at a time in recovery. You’ll begin noticing and appreciating the smallest joys in life!
  6.   Use “gratitude reminders”.Using “gratitude reminders” can be another great way to keep gratitude at the top
    of your mind. Surround yourself with visual reminders to be grateful – like quotes, frames, photos, pretty plants, or any object that holds a positive association for you.  Each time you see one of these prompts, let it serve as a reminder to continue cultivating your attitude of gratitude throughout the day.
  7.   Compare “Before and After”.
    Sit down and make a list of everything you now have in your life that you did not have during your addiction. Document every small blessing that has come into your life since you embraced sobriety, whether it’s physical and emotional well-being, precious relationships, stable employment, housing… Read through it and notice how much there is to be grateful for in a life of recovery.

Incorporating just one or two of these gratitude-building tips into your everyday life can make a huge difference. Small steps equal big change!

Benefits of Gratitude in Recovery

Aside from the happiness and contentment it adds to our life, there are many advantages to developing an attitude of gratitude.

  • It improves our relationships and social connections. When we’re grateful, we become kind, empathetic, more giving and forgiving people – the kind of person that others like to hang out and be around.
  • It improves our mental and emotional health. Research has shown that gratitude reduces anxiety and depression, increases positive emotions, and helps us regulate our emotions.
  • It improves our physical health. As impossible as it may sound, studies show that real gratitude boosts our immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces aches and pains, and helps us sleep better. Did you know that an attitude could be so powerful?
  • It builds resilience. When we’re grateful for everything, we’re not discouraged by our failures, and we view challenges as opportunities for growth. We’re not scared off by anything.
  • This was already mentioned, but it’s worth repeating – we live happier lives! Most of what we do is in pursuit of happiness, and this is an free, painless, easy way to add joy and contentment to each day. We’d say it’s worth it!

Gain Gratitude in Recovery at Avenues Recovery

Gratitude is an essential part of any sustainable recovery lifestyle; it’s a muscle that can be flexed until a positive outlook becomes second nature to us. It may take some effort, but the payoff is well worth it. We become happier, kinder, more present and contented people in the long run. Whether you want to learn gratitude in the big book or practice it through exercises, it can only enhance your life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance addiction, Avenues Recovery is here to offer you hope for the future. At our sought-after rehabilitation centers, help is always available. Reach out to our skilled treatment specialists to learn about our detox and treatment programs and the next step forward. Begin your journey home today and find gratitude in recovery!




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