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gratitude can improve friendships and recovery.
November 16, 2017

3 Eye-Opening Ways That Gratitude Can Strengthen Your Support System

gratitude can improve friendships and recovery.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, this month we’ve been unpacking the theme of gratitude as it relates to recovery. The physical and mental health benefits of gratitude are numerous, according to equally abundant research, much of it by researchers at the University of California Berkeley (UCB). (This short article on UCB’s website summarized the key highlights of that research into why gratitude is good for your health and by extension good for your recovery.)

But here I invite you to consider how an attitude of gratitude can strengthen your recovery support network— that life-giving web of peer, family and community relationships that is critical to long-term success in recovery.

Remember that “people” are one leg of that three-legged stool of recovery (the other two legs being your purpose and passion). The greater your sense of connectedness to others who love and support you? The stronger your recovery will be. Here’s how:

  • Gratitude can strengthen your relationship with a spouse, partner and/or significant other. An October 2015 study in the journal Personal Relationships found that “spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.” Couples who express “thank you” to one another deal better with conflict and have healthier communication patterns. They are also less likely to get divorced. And stronger connection with a partner or spouse can go miles to help boost your desire to stay sober. That’s demonstrated by findings from the field of behavioral couples’ therapy that show how spousal support improves abstinence outcomes.
  • Gratitude motivates and reinforces “mutually beneficial” relationships with others. That’s a recent conclusion of researchers from Indiana University, led by Dr. Prathik Kini. They gave test subjects a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task. One result was reportedly a “gratitude spiral” of sorts: “The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous” Previous studies have yielded similar results, suggesting that gratitude can help strengthen and maintain relationships and increase connection and relational satisfaction.
  • Gratitude can reduce feelings of loneliness. Addiction preys on feelings of loneliness and isolation that can get in the way of asking for help and support from family and friends. These same feelings can also trigger relapse. On the other hand, the less lonely and less isolated you feel—(and the more socially connected and supported you feel)—the less likely you will be to relapse. Strikingly, a 2015 study found an inverse relationship between gratitude and loneliness, with perceptions of loneliness decreasing as levels of gratitude increase.

These are just three ways that gratitude can help you tap into a stronger, more extensive network of social support, which anyone’s recovery desperately needs— you may have experienced others. If so, share them with the rest of us in the comments section below!

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