Regularly expressing gratitude for the good in our lives, including people, and situations enhance our physical and mental health. When we focus on what we are thankful for, we attract more positivity, experience less stress and other negative emotions, strengthen our relationships, and are better equipped to overcome challenging situations.
An attitude of gratitude can even help overcome addiction. Research has found a strong link between the frequent practice of gratitude and successful recovery from substance use disorder. 12-step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and others have traditionally stressed the important role that gratitude plays in long-term recovery.
The Science Behind the Power of Gratitude
Studies have found that when we focus on gratitude, we stimulate areas of the brain regulating reward, morality and empathy to produce feelings of pleasure. In fact, an association between the practice of gratitude and increased happiness is supported by research, according to Harvard Medical School. There are multiple studies supporting this association.
The Journal of Psychotherapy Research evaluated 293 participants in a study entitled Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? All participants underwent psychotherapy, but when researchers followed up at four weeks and twelve weeks, participants from the group who also wrote gratitude letters reported a more positive mental outlook.
“Gratitude heals, energizes, and transforms lives,” according to Dr. Robert Emmons, who is considered an expert on the power of gratitude. One of the many studies on gratitude co-authored by Emmons compared participants who kept a list of things they were grateful for to those who kept a list of things that either annoyed them or had a neutral impact. Those who kept the gratitude list expressed a higher level of happiness and a sense of well-being.
Gratitude and Healing
Most researchers agree that gratitude positively impacts physical health. Studies indicate gratitude helps lower blood pressure, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system and is even linked to fewer signs of heart disease.
People who regularly practice gratitude express more satisfaction with their lives, more positive emotions like joy, optimism and enthusiasm, a greater ability to manage stress and less anxiety and depression than those who fail to regularly express gratitude.
Practicing Gratitude Supports Addiction Recovery
Studies confirm that stress, depression, anxiety and isolation are dangerous triggers to relapse. Regular practice of gratitude by those in recovery has been shown to lessen negative emotions and increase coping skills, decreasing the rate of relapse, and supporting long-term recovery.
A study of incarcerated male drug users conducted by psychologists at the National University of Singapore found, those inmates who exhibited the highest levels of gratitude were better able to manage stress, cope with negative situations and had stronger coping skills than other study participants. The study concluded that “a disposition of gratitude significantly decreased the amount of drug use current abusers participated in.”
The author of a study entitled Gratitude, abstinence, and alcohol use disorders found, “For those who were abstinent after treatment, the relationship between gratitude and future abstinence was positive.”
For a healthier, happier life, we can all benefit from keeping a gratitude list or journal, prayer, meditation, regularly thanking others in our lives and dwelling on positive thoughts.
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