Recovery from addiction is about much more than abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The strongest recovery is one based on living a happier and more fulfilling life. That requires making changes in your relationships, habits, and outlook. One way to significantly improve the quality of your life is to make a habit of practicing gratitude.
1. Gratitude improves your relationships.
Gratitude is good for recovery in many ways. One of the most important is that it improves the quality of your relationships and the quality of communication with others. Practical experience tells us that people like to feel appreciated and that’s exactly what you’re doing whenever you express gratitude to others. However, there’s also quite a bit of research showing that gratitude improves relationships. Studies have found that expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships, improve relationship satisfaction. It can also increase your willingness to forgive others, promote conflict resolution, and foster mutually beneficial behavior. [https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-research/] Strong relationships are crucial for a successful recovery because they give you a sense of connection and purpose, reduce stress, and increase accountability. Therefore, practicing gratitude helps your recovery by improving the quality of your relationships.
2. Gratitude makes you happier.
Gratitude is also good for your recovery because it is one of the best ways to make you happier overall. There have now been decades of research connecting gratitude and wellbeing. In one study, Robert Emmonds and Michael McCullough, two leading gratitude researchers, divided participants into three groups. Each of the three groups was asked to write just a few sentences each week. One group was asked to write about daily irritations or things that displeased them. The second group was asked to write about events that had affected them but the researchers didn’t specify whether these events should be positive or negative. The third group was asked to write about things that had occurred during the week that they were grateful for. After 10 weeks, the group that had written about things they were grateful for each week felt more optimistic and better about their lives. As unexpected bonuses, they also made fewer trips to the doctor and exercised more than the group that had written about irritating experiences. [https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier]
3. A positive outlook and a general sense of well-being.
A positive outlook and a general sense of well-being are significant factors in a strong recovery because they help prevent relapse. Relapses don’t typically happen spontaneously but rather in stages–emotional, mental, then physical. Emotional relapse is characterized by negative emotions, bottling up emotions, focusing on other people’s problems, and neglecting self-care. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/] Fortunately, the emotional stage of relapse is when it is easiest to turn things around. One way to do this is by practicing gratitude. It improves your outlook and it also makes you more willing to communicate openly and forgive others, as noted above.
4. Gratitude connects you to a higher power.
Connection to a higher power is a central part of the 12-step approach to recovery. While many people think of the higher power as God, what really matters is feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. For some people, that might be nature, or humanity, or a cause they feel strongly about. What matters most is the sense of connection and purpose. Practicing gratitude is a way of deliberately acknowledging the role a higher power plays in your life. No one is entirely self-sufficient. We’ve all benefitted at some time or other from the kindness of others, from nature, or from just dumb luck. When you take a moment to acknowledge these things by expressing gratitude, it affirms that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, which is an important part of working the steps. In fact, you could say that prayer is essentially a way of expressing gratitude for the good things that are beyond your control.
How to be more grateful
Although there are compelling reasons to practice gratitude, it is often easier said than done. When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, it’s hard to see anything but problems. The good news is that there are research-backed ways to adopt a more grateful attitude toward life. Positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman has tested several different methods of increasing feelings of gratitude and found two especially powerful. The first is to keep a gratitude journal. Similar to the study that asked participants to write about the week’s positive experiences, a gratitude journal is just taking a few minutes each night to write down two or three things that you’re grateful for that day. It’s much better to be specific about why you are grateful for one or two important things than just to list a lot of things you’re grateful for. After the first week or so, it’s usually a good idea to switch to writing about gratitude once a week because the mood-boosting effect tends to wear off when you do it every day.
An even more powerful method of increasing gratitude is writing a gratitude letter. Think of something you feel you never properly thanked someone for and write a letter to that person. Detail what you’re grateful for and why. Then deliver the letter in person, if possible. Participants in one study who wrote gratitude letters reported feeling happier for a whole month. And it perhaps goes without saying that writing someone a gratitude letter strengthens your relationship.
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