When we talk about having an attitude of gratitude in recovery, what we’re really talking about is the practicing of gratitude. That distinction can be helpful for those of us who fall into the “glass-half-empty” category. An “attitude of gratitude” sounds a bit like you have to be born with it—like it’s either in your personality DNA or isn’t. Gratitude “practices,” on the other hand, make gratitude more accessible, so that even the biggest discontent among us can learn with time and practice to become more grateful.
On that note, here are some practical tips for how to practice gratitude as part of a healthy lifestyle that supports long-term recovery:
- Keep a daily gratitude journal. Some people may gravitate to writing more than others, but the exercise doesn’t have to involve a lot of writing. What’s more important is the intentional reflection process. As you begin to draw more of your conscious attention to what’s good in your day, you’ll probably notice a lift in your mood and a positive change in your outlook on life. Choose a regular morning or bedtime rhythm that’s right for you—University of Pennsylvania positive psychologist Martin Seligman has suggested that bedtime is the optimal time—and try to brainstorm three things about the day for which you’re grateful.
- Share your gratitude with others. Expressing your gratitude to others doesn’t have to be a formal process in the form of a handwritten letter or “thank you” note. Saying “thank you” can also be an informal exchange, in which you more spontaneously share with the other person something you love or appreciate about them. When that person is someone you like and whose company you enjoy, finding these opportunities for positive affirmation shouldn’t be hard. Once you’ve mastered this practice (sharing your gratitude with those you like and love), see if you can do the same with someone who you don’t particularly like or who you find annoying. I’m guessing that will be harder!
- Notice what displeases or frustrates you, and reframe it into something you are grateful for (“the lesson”). In other words, try to find the silver lining in whatever you’re dealing with. Whether it’s a grisly commute, a run-in with a colleague, or even a scary diagnosis, switching your focus from the negative circumstances to the positive takeaway is yet another way to practice gratitude.
- Try to let go of a materialistic mindset and “impulse shopping.” Our consumerist society wants us to believe that we really “need” that next new outfit or pair of shoes— when in reality our wardrobe is plenty full. The problem with this materialistic and consumerist mindset is that it can diminish an awareness of what we already have. It’s hard to be grateful when so much of life is about acquiring that next material thing. So the next time you feel compelled to buy that fourth pair of skinny jeans, ask yourself if you really need them!
How do you practice gratitude? We hope you’ll share your insights and reflections with the rest of us!