Tips for Showing Gratitude With Family Members and Friends While in Recovery
Addiction experts now know that gratitude can improve treatment outcomes for substance abuse.
But there is another invaluable way in which gratitude can boost your long-term recovery. Gratitude can strengthen your relationships with family members and friends— that close network of support that successful long-term recovery depends on. New insights into the science of love and connection reveal why connecting with others is so critical to recovery, and how strong social support achieves better treatment outcomes.
This article will explore the research behind the claim that gratitude can strengthen your love and connection to others. You’ll also get practical tips and ideas for showing gratitude with family members and friends while in recovery.
How Gratitude Can Help You Build Better Relationships
Research has revealed how gratitude can help you build better relationships with the people in your life:
- Simply thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes them more likely to pursue a friendship with you, according to research in 2014 at the University of New South Wales.
- A study of sorority sisters found that those who felt more grateful upon receiving a gift felt emotionally closer and more connected to the person who gave them the gift.
- Gratitude was the biggest predictor of a happy marriage, in 2015 findings by researchers at the University of Georgia. (These findings reinforced earlier research published in the journal, Personal Relationships: that “every day gratitude” is “a booster shot for romantic relationships.”)
A Gratitude Exercise That You Can Apply to Any Relationship
Evidently, then, feeling and expressing gratitude can help you strengthen your ties to the important people in your life— but how, practically speaking, do you get there? Start with the following gratitude exercise (a contribution of the positive psychologist Martin Seligman):
- Close your eyes and call to mind someone who said or did something that made a positive impact on your life. This person could be someone you’ve not seen in years and never had an opportunity to properly thank, or someone who you see everyday, whose presence you’ve come to take for granted.
- Handwrite a letter of gratitude to that person. In your letter, you can mention the attributes that you most love about them, recall a memorable experience that you shared together (and for which you’re grateful), or thank them for particular ways that they showed their love to you. Seligman recommends keeping the letter brief (300 words or less) and specific (in referencing what the person did/said and the positive impact). In today’s computerized age, a handwritten note conveys that more time and effort went into it.
- Make “a gratitude visit” (Seligman’s term). Once you’ve written the note, Seligman recommends that you hand-deliver it. In his words: “Call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.”
“The Gratitude Box” Exercise
The Gratitude Box exercise—another contribution from the field of positive psychology—is another way that you can deepen connection with your loved ones:
- Grab an old shoebox, some paper and a pen or pencil.
- Write down a short heartfelt message of gratitude to your loved one.
- If you’re not sure what to say, use a prompt like “What I love about you…” or “My Thanksgiving wish for you…”
- Collect messages from other friends or family members and put them in the box.
- Wrap up the box or put a bow on it.
- Give the box to your loved one.
Get more directions and other ideas for how to show gratitude in the positive psychology blog “31 Gratitude Exercises That Will Boost Your Happiness.”
Other Thanksgiving Tips for Showing Gratitude to Family and Friends
There are many other creative ways in which to show gratitude to family and friends. In an added twist to this year’s Thanksgiving Day celebration, consider trying out one or more of the following tips; then notice the results:
- Invite each person around the table to share one nice thing they appreciate about the person to their right (and be as specific as possible).
- Leave encouraging notes in random spots for others to find.
- Compliment and affirm your loved one(s) on a talent or attribute that you admire.
- Give your loved one(s) a long and intimate hug.
- Listen fully to what your friend or family member has to say, giving them your complete attention.
- Make someone else’s bed for them.
- Offer to watch someone else’s favorite show instead of yours.
- Do a chore for your loved one(s) that you know they hate doing.
- Take them on a surprise outing.
- Switch roles. (An example: in gratitude for how your mom has cooked for you across the years, cook this year’s Thanksgiving meal.)
In conclusion, the power of gratitude to effect core change in your relationships is extraordinary— and, the opportunities for giving thanks to friends and family are countless. People in recovery who regularly practice gratitude are among the first to benefit.