When we first get sober, it can be difficult see our lives through the lenses of gratitude. Faced with a variety of problems created when we lived our lives in active addiction, the idea of feeling grateful about anything might seem pretty ridiculous. In reality, even those of us just starting the recovery journey have much to be grateful for. As we make more and more progress in our recovery, our sense of gratitude increases to such a point that gratitude becomes woven into nearly every part of our lives.
Gratitude: What is it?
Gratitude has several slightly different definitions, but each is centered in the quality of feeling thankful. Gratitude is perhaps best described as: expressing or feeling an emotion for something (or someone) you have in your life. That something can be anything at all, as long as it something you have and not something you wish you had.
Ways of Expressing Gratitude
There are many ways of expressing gratitude. If you are feeling grateful for a person in your life, letting that person know that you are grateful—through words, a letter, or an email—is a powerful expression of gratitude. Some people express gratitude to a power greater than themselves through prayer. Many us active in our recovery daily express gratitude by thanking our higher power for helping us to stay clean and sober for another day. One method of expressing gratitude that many psychologists promote is regularly keeping a gratitude journal, one in which you describe what you are grateful for each day. Whatever method of expression we choose, we find that we gain the most benefit when such expressions are made with great regularity.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Research has proven (Emmons, 2010) that expressing gratitude results in many beneficial effects on the expressers’ overall health. People who regularly express gratitude have strong immune systems, lower blood pressure, and tend to exercise more while taking better care of their health. They have higher levels of positive emotions and are feel more alert, alive, and awake. They are more optimistic and experience more joy, pleasure, and happiness. People who maintain a sense of gratitude are more helpful, generous, and compassionate; are more outgoing and forgiving, and feel less lonely and isolated.
The regular expression of gratitude has also been proven to block toxic and negative emotions like envy, regret, and resentment. For people in recovery, this is a particularly wonderful benefit, as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous warns us that resentments are immensely dangerous for us. A number of studies have also shown that grateful people are more resistant to stress, and that they experience a stronger sense of self-worth (Emmons, 2010). It’s almost difficult to believe that the simple act of keeping a regular gratitude journal can have so many physical, psychological, spiritual benefits—and yet research has shown this to be precisely the case.
Why Gratitude is an Important Part of Recovery
For most of us, when we were in active addiction our lives were devoid of any sense of gratitude. We were glad when things went our way, but were never truly thankful for anything or anyone in our lives. And when things did not go our way, we become overwhelmed by anger and resentment, and these feelings were fuel for the fire of our ever-worsening disease of addiction.
As we recovered, we began to connect with a higher power and allow that power to replace ourselves as the guiding force in our lives. We began to learn that this power wanted us to experience happiness and joyfulness as the direct result of being of service to others. An overwhelming sense of thankfulness for this new life flowed into us and made us begin to experience a feeling of gratitude that our previous lives completely lacked.
There are so many things in the recovered life for which we can be grateful. By making amends with those whom we have harmed, the damage to past relationships with friends and family begins to heal. In forging a connection with a higher power, we experience an immense sense of relief that we no longer have to micromanage our lives. As we begin to help others recover, our mindset changes from one of selfishness to that of service to others. The entirety of our lives becomes something about which we feel gratitude, thankful that lives are now firmly rooted in the purposefulness of our recovery.
It is so much easier to feel grateful while living a life in recovery than it is while we are active in our disease of addiction. This gratitude-filled life is available to each and every one of us who chooses to embrace it. Step into this life by calling Burning Tree West at 888-530-9424. This is a life you do not want to miss!