By: Kathryn Painchaud
Throughout recovery, there are numerous strategies and services that can be used to promote healing. This includes behavioral healthcare specialists, healthcare providers, family members, friends, and support from peers who have their own experiences with addiction. Members from these categories all play integral roles in recovery as they each provide different forms of care and encouragement.
Gratitude is a relatively overlooked practice that can be added to this repertoire of support. It can be practiced by anyone, virtually anywhere, and costs nothing! Additionally, it can help reframe one’s thinking and allows us to see all the good things we have on dark days. Seeing and appreciating goodness around us is important for everyone and can serve to help change the way those in recovery move through their sobriety journey.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a state of thankfulness and appreciation. It allows us to acknowledge all the good things in our lives and the goodness outside ourselves.
Rather than expecting good things and being disappointed when those expectations are not fully met, gratitude allows us to be thankful for everything, including the small things.
It is the ability to identify the abundance around us and respond with, “Thank you!”
how gratitude can aid in recovery
Recovery is not linear. Through the highs and lows that come with recovering, gratitude is a powerful tool that helps us appreciate good moments while simultaneously building the resilience needed to get through bad moments. There are several benefits for those who practice gratitude in recovery, including:
Aids in building happiness and joy
Helps to lower stress levels
Increases love and compassion for self
Greater ability to love and respect others
Allows one to take on challenges with a more positive mindset
Gratitude is also beneficial in its ability to grow over time. Recovery is a long-term process, and gratitude has the endurance needed to carry us throughout the entire journey.
For many, gratitude may initially seem easier said than done. Gratitude takes time, energy, and is a skill that must be practiced. However, there are several simple strategies that can be used to cultivate gratitude daily and help make thankfulness a habit.
keep a gratitude journal
Journals can be physical or digital, with something as simple as a list on your phone or computer. Entries can include things you’re grateful for, like: family, friends, places, food, experiences, pets, positive memories, or aspects of yourself. This journal should be a safe place to express your gratitude for all the good things around and within you. On good days, write about the goodness that is impacting you. On bad days, refer to the journal and use it as a reminder of all the joy surrounding you. This will allow you to keep an attitude of thankfulness even when it feels difficult to be thankful. Additionally, writing entries before bed or first thing in the morning can help build this positive habit and reframe thinking before or after a challenging day.
practice mental subtraction
Mental subtraction is imagining what life would be like if positive events had not occurred. For example, “What would life be like if I hadn’t adopted my dog?” or, “How would my life be different if I didn’t meet my best friend?” This activity allows us to see how enriching the positive elements of our lives truly are. It also brings attention to how different life would be without the things we care about.
engage in activities that represent gratitude
Activities that physically represent gratitude help us visualize all the things we have to be grateful for. Some gratitude activities include:
This activity can be done alone or with a companion. Gratitude walks are about observing the beauty around you and appreciating where you are. Pay extra attention to anything worth noticing, including: plants, the weather, people you encounter, and so on! Gratitude walks help us to slow down and feel grateful for the small, wonderful things we may otherwise overlook.
A gratitude jar is exactly what it sounds like–a jar full of things to be grateful for! Adding one new thing you’re grateful for each day is a quick way to build appreciation and practice gratitude. Additionally, when you feel low or need extra support, you’ll have an entire jar of good things to help remind you of everything you have.
A gratitude tree is yet another easy way to physically represent the abundance of good things you have in your life. This activity begins by drawing (or sculpting!) a tree with bare branches. The tree is designed to be filled with drawings of leaves, each representing something to be grateful for. This activity can be completed all at once or over time to build a habit! This is yet another beautiful way to visualize and be thankful for all the positive things around us.
John Hopkins University (2021). How to cultivate a gratitude practice. Wellbeing.jhu.edu. Retrieved 6/2/2023 from How to cultivate a gratitude practice - Johns Hopkins University Student Well-Being (jhu.edu)
Positive Psychology (2019). The neuroscience of gratitude and effects on brain. Positive Psychology.com. Retrieved 6/2/2023 from The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain (positivepsychology.com)
Gateway Foundation (2022). Thank your way out of addiction: How gratitude may be the key to recovery. Gateway Foundation.org. Retrieved 6/2/2023 from Gratitude May Be the Key to Addiction Recovery | Gateway (gatewayfoundation.org)
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