Recovery Milestone #2: Attaining Gratitude
In the spirit of “National Recovery Month,” an annual celebration of recovery that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosts every September, I’ve been devoting each blog this month to a “milestone” in recovery. And by milestone, I mean something that’s worth all the hard work, because accomplishing it makes you healthier, happier and stronger in recovery. In this sense, a milestone is also something that calls for celebration.
Last week, we looked at one big recovery milestone — namely, “sober anniversaries,” key points in space and time that, whether big or small, represent a step forward in the recovery journey. We also explored some fun, creative ways to build positive memories around these points of celebration.
This week we’ll look at another big recovery milestone: gratitude, or the quality of being grateful, which also involves a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness, according to at least one definition of the concept.
The Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude is a big milestone in recovery for a couple of reasons. First, it’s often an indication of mental and emotional health and wellbeing. And its benefits for recovery and for mental health more generally have been scientifically studied and documented. Here they are, as described in an article in Forbes magazine:
- Gratitude is linked to fewer aches and pains and better overall physical health.
- Gratitude also improves mood and happiness levels.
- Showing appreciation to others builds new friendships, according to a study in 2014 in the journal Emotion.
- Gratitude helps people overcome trauma (a common cause of addiction).
- Gratitude improves sleep.
- Gratitude can make you more empathetic to others and less reactive to the aggravations they may cause.
Here’s another really interesting tidbit about gratitude that mental health writer Therese Borchard has referenced from the writer Dan Baker’s book, What Happy People Know: it is apparently impossible to be in a state of appreciation and anxiety at the same time. If that is the case, and if life were as simple as choosing between these two states, wouldn’t you choose gratitude and appreciation over fear and anxiety?
Practical Tips for Attaining Gratitude
Below are some practical tips that can help you choose gratitude over fear, so that the art of being appreciative for life’s many gifts will come more naturally with time, as something embodied (in other words, as more of a reflex than a conscious choice or forced response):
- Keep a daily gratitude journal. For some people, this daily discipline may be difficult at the start, but with practice it will come more easily. At the end of each day (at bedtime, for example), take a few moments to survey the day and jot down three blessings, silver linings or gifts for which you are thankful. These do not have to be earth-shatteringly large moments. In fact, the more you’re able to get into a habit of noticing the seemingly small “seed moments” that belong to the course of ordinary daily life, the easier it will be to embody gratitude.
- Was there a moment when you experienced a meaningful connection with another human being and/or your Higher Power? Write it down.
- Did you learn something new? Write it down.
- Were you able to share what you learned with someone else in a way that enriched their day? Write it down.
- Did you make it through another day sober? Write it down.
- Thank others for how they have blessed or helped you. Voice your appreciation to others for their contributions. This, too, may initially seem a bit awkward or phony if you’re not used to doing it, but this, too, can become a habit through practice. A simple word of affirmation to a colleague for their contributions, or a written note of thanks for someone’s gift of hospitality, will lift both your spirits. And it will go a long way to building the meaningful human connections so essential to recovery.
- Pay it forward. If someone does something nice for you, pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. Even the smallest expression of love and respect — like giving up your seat on the bus to the stranger next to you, or surprising the person behind you in the Starbucks line with a complimentary cup of coffee— will make you feel like a million bucks. Chances are you’ll want to record the moment in your gratitude journal later that day.