Practicing gratitude helps us express our love for recovery and also how we acknowledge the gifts we’ve been given; A Higher Power, Family and Friends (in and out of recovery) the beauty of our environment, and more. Gratitude replaces negativity, affirming what’s good in our lives.
Traditionally, many families focus on gratitude during their Thanksgiving celebration. Family members often ask one another what they’re most thankful for.
But what makes gratitude so powerful, and shouldn’t we share it more than one day per year?
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, is widely recognized for his research on gratitude. Dr. Emmons writes that gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
Multiple research studies have verified that gratitude triggers measurable physical, mental and emotional benefits. Grateful, positive people tend to:
- Be physically healthier, with a stronger immune system
- Practice a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and nutritious eating
- Have healthier sleep patterns
- Have lower blood pressure
- Have higher energy, enthusiasm, and optimism
- Be more socially active
- Be interested in the well-being of others
- Give to others
For those in recovery, gratitude is an essential part of a successful journey, especially when practiced on a daily basis. Being grateful for what we have also makes us desire to help others. Gratitude and service to others are at the foundation of any 12-step support group (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) and similar programs.
Gratitude at AA and NA
Both AA and NA are worldwide fellowships open to anyone who struggles with substance use. While AA is geared specifically to those who want to quit drinking alcohol, NA is for those with any substance use problem, including legal or illegal drugs or alcohol. Both programs are based on the traditional 12 steps, stressing accountability, gratitude and service to others.
The literature of both groups contains countless references to the relationship between gratitude and long-term recovery. A daily reflection from the NA journal Just for Today states, “One of the ways we express our gratitude for the gifts of recovery is to help others find what we’ve found.”
Twelve Step groups promote the daily practice of gratitude as one of the keys to success in recovery. A study by Gila Chen, “Does gratitude promote recovery from substance misuse?” found the regular practice of gratitude “enables the individual to develop the personal arsenal of strengths necessary to conduct a sober and productive life.”
Recovery and gratitude
Michael Graubart, a bestselling author, person in recovery, and writer for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, suggests those in recovery, especially those new to recovery, ask themselves three questions every day:
- What’s great about my life today?
- How can I serve today?
- Where would I be if I wasn’t clean and sober?
These questions can serve as useful prompts to think about gratitude in your recovery.
To start, focus on the positive improvements that recovery has brought into your life. Meditate, keep a gratitude journal, and celebrate what’s great in your life. Graubart writes that he started his gratitude journal over 30 years ago, first writing down 10 things for which he was grateful, then adding three things each day. He stopped counting when he reached 5,000.
Next, consider how you can help others find that same level of success. Service to others is a basic tenet of AA and NA and is supported by the study, “The 10 Year Course of AA Participation and Long-Term Outcomes.” The study found that helping others helped “to stave off an urge to drink and increase interest in others.”
One of the study’s authors, Maria Pagano of Case Western University, has stated that helping others, “appears to decrease some of the psychological markers of the disease – high levels of narcissism and entitlement – that make one prone to addiction and less likely to enter recovery in the first place.” Pagano and her research team have conducted multiple studies over the last decade and have found that “helping others can increase the chances of staying sober by up to 50 percent.”
Finally, be honest with yourself. Would you be thriving in your job, your personal relationships or your health if you weren’t sober? In 2017, more than 70,200 Americans died from overdose of illicit drugs and prescription opioids, and almost 90,000 people per year die from excessive alcohol use. Your life may or may not be perfect right now, but it’s bound to be so much better than it was. Reflect on all the positive things in your life now.
Studies show gratitude supports recovery
Several studies support the positive effect of gratitude on those in recovery. A 2017 study by National University of Singapore psychologists found that people enrolled in a rehab program who exhibited the highest levels of gratitude also displayed the strongest coping skills. They were better able to manage stress and negative events, and more highly motivated to react positively to adverse situations. The study concluded that “a disposition of gratitude significantly decreased the amount of drug use current abusers participated in.”
Another research study, “Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients?” published in the journal Psychotherapy Research, evaluated three groups of participants: those receiving only psychotherapy, those receiving psychotherapy and participating in expressive writing, and those receiving psychotherapy and participating in gratitude writing. The study concluded that the participants who wrote gratitude letters “reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.” Another study even found that regularly expressing gratitude may have a positive, lasting effect on neural activity in the brain, and may contribute to improved mental health.
Gratitude reinforces your recovery journey, as it promotes physical and mental well-being. It motivates and supports your desire to be happy, healthy and productive. Gratitude makes you a more giving, compassionate, and fulfilled human being. So this Thanksgiving, be grateful but don’t forget to share some gratitude the other days of the year, too.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.