The Role of Gratitude in Addiction RecoveryShelby Wall
Depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on one’s recovery – just when everything should be going well, you may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol again. In these moments, it can be helpful to call on one of the strongest correlates to happiness: gratitude. By cultivating feelings of thankfulness, you can improve your mindset, mental health, and overall quality of life. Read on to learn more.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude, also called thankfulness and gratefulness, comes from the Latin work gratus. This translates to “pleasing or thankful” and is a feeling of appreciation or positive response to kindness, gifts, or other types of generosity.
Beginning in the year 2000, psychologists began studying gratitude in earnest. A large body of work resulted in several major conclusions on the subject. First, those who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being, meaning that they are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and relationships. Gratitude may also serve as a buffer to depression by shifting one’s focus. Research shows that what we focus on is easiest for us to cognitively access – this means that if you cultivate positive feelings, they will be more readily accessible for you than negative memories and associations. Grateful people have higher levels of control, personal growth, life purpose, and self-acceptance.
All of these factors can strengthen one’s sobriety immeasurably. By lessening negative experiences and low mood, some of the most famous relapse triggers become less common and more manageable. You’ll also be more likely to feel satisfied in your life, and may even feel a self confidence boost that empowers you to take calculated risks in order to improve both professionally and personally.
Hack Your Way to Happiness
One of the primary benefits of gratitude is the result of a key cognitive feature of the human mind. Joseph Wolpe’s psychological principle of “reciprocal inhibition” says that people can’t feel two contradicting states at once. This means that phobias can be treated by providing an opposite emotion (relaxation) at the moment the fear-inducing stimulus is introduced. Similarly, depression and low mood are incompatible with warm feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. If you can conjure up happy memories and a positive association with your current state, you can also keep bad moods at bay.
How Can I Develop Gratitude?
Like all things associated with addiction recovery, developing gratitude is an ongoing process. It takes time to heal past wounds, regain trust, and abandon negative thoughts. You can begin by appreciating the simple things. Has someone held a door for you today? Smiled at you in passing? Focusing on these little sparks of happiness and fully appreciating them is a great first step to gratefulness. Seek to provide these for other people in return through volunteering or simply brightening their days.
It’s also worthwhile to reflect on your recovery and express your gratitude for it. Consider how far you’ve come, and how glad you are to be sober and fully present in your life. Write this out in your journal or share in a meeting. By reminding ourselves of why we’re here and who helped us along the way, we will avoid taking sobriety for granted.
Two Gratitude Exercises
Consider this mental experiment from Dr. Sam Harris, courtesy of Psychology Today. Imagine what it would be like to have lost everything yesterday – your relationships, your identity, your possessions, your education, your job, your life itself. After letting that sink in for a moment, consider how you would feel to have had all of that restored at the moment you’re in right now, after having lost it all. What would that change about the present? How much more would you savor your day-to-day life?
To immediately feel a rush of gratitude, close your eyes and gradually bring to mind someone you love – a significant other, child, or close friend – and imagine them at their absolute happiest. Imagine them getting exactly what they want in life, smiling and laughing. How does this affect your mental state? Notice that feeling and hold onto it for a few moments. That’s gratitude, and it’s always just a thought away.
Find the Healing You Deserve
Concise Recovery Center provides premier addiction detox and recovery treatment from two locations in Southern California. Our credentialed staff combine holistic and therapeutic services to treat the whole patient – mentally, physically, and spiritually.
To receive training in mindfulness and gratitude, or to ease your transition to sobriety, it’s important to have the right support. Call Concise Recovery at 888-978-5424 to learn more.