Does an Attitude of Gratitude Affect Recovery?

Does an Attitude of Gratitude Affect Recovery?

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, many of us may be reflecting on people and circumstances in our lives that we are grateful for. Examining our feelings of gratitude is certainly a nice thing to do.

At times when it is all too easy to focus on the things that are not going right in our lives, it is good to remind ourselves that we do have things to be grateful for, and to be appreciative of the people who are associated with those things. Now, science is giving us even more compelling reasons to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Research from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA tells us that grateful people are more optimistic, more in control of their lives, can deal better with challenges and have less stress than people for whom feelings of  gratitude seem to be lacking.

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, has made the study of gratitude a focus of his work. He says that people who consistently maintain a sense of gratefulness report a number of personal benefits:

Physical

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Reduced sensing of aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased interest in exercise and taking care of health
  • Better, more restful sleep

Psychological

  • Increased levels of positive emotions
  • of being more alert, alive, and awake
  • Increased sense of joy and pleasure
  • Increased feelings of optimism and happiness

Social

  • Increased desire to be helpful, generous, and compassionate
  • Increased feelings of forgiveness
  • Increased interest in being outgoing
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation

Studies by Emmons and others, including researchers from Indiana University, led by Prathik Kini, who gave study participants a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task and measured results in a brain scanner, found that that gratitude is “likely a unique emotion… akin to empathy or consideration of another’s point of view, but {having } more of a pro-social component… gratitude motivates and reinforces the making of choices that lead to mutually beneficial behaviors for those involved; it also lasts longer and can be “trained” – like  a “gratitude muscle.”

The Importance of Gratitude in Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes attaining serenity and gratitude as two of the most characteristic markers of success in the AA program. An AA Grapevine article states that “gratitude and serenity are two sides of the same golden coin of sobriety.”

In the book, Practice These Principles, author Ray A., a recovering alcoholic with 32 years of continuous sobriety in AA, describes gratitude as “an emotion-virtue {that} disposes us morally to act right and emotionally to feel right, to do good as regards others and to do well as regards our  {own} mental condition.”

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

So how can we flex and strengthen our own “gratitude muscles” so that we can develop and sustain the ongoing “attitude of gratitude” that will provide us and others so many positive benefits? The Greater Good Science Center offers the following suggestions:

  • Record feelings of gratitude daily in a Gratitude Journal
  • Make a Gratitude List each morning
  • Practice Meditation / Prayer
  • Demonstrate gratitude in your interaction with others
  • Choose to focus on noticing the good, versus the bad, in everything you see and experience
  • Talk with others about what makes them feel grateful

When relating your gratitude efforts to your recovery, consider these ideas:

  • Gratitude is a great antidote to self-focus and a “poor me” attitude.

During recovery, it is natural to focus on one’s self and all the difficulties and challenges that are inherent in the process of becoming sober. It is easy during this naturally self-focused state to fail to remember that other people who are assisting you and encouraging you in your recovery efforts deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated for their concern and helpful actions. By making it a point to practice conscious, deliberate awareness of gratitude-worthy actions by others, you can not only give people the appreciation they deserve, you will also be strengthening your “gratitude muscle”, which will benefit you in recovery and in life in general.

  • Gratitude teaches you to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want; on what you are becoming, versus what you have been.

Recovery is often referred to as a journey, not a destination.  During the journey, every step along the way can and should be a source of greater hope and optimism for the future you are working to create for yourself. So often, the need to overcome hurdles, solve problem and be watchful for potential pitfalls can keep one focused too closely on the downside of the recovery process—the sometimes painful personal work that is necessary to make change happen. Practicing gratitude allows you to “switch gears” mentally and see the positivity and hopefulness in the process. Through this change in perspective, you can renew your strength and regain momentum to propel you toward your goals.

Gratitude-Enhancing Tools

Keeping a Gratitude Journal and making a daily Gratitude List are excellent ways to put into practice your intention to strengthen your gratitude muscle. In his research, Dr. Emmons found that the following tips were useful for helping participants get the most value from their Gratitude Journals:

  • Start with a conscious decision. Choose to begin noticing things you can be grateful for.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Consider writing in your journal more fully and specifically about one thing you are grateful for each day, rather than trying to attest to every single thing you appreciated that day.
  • Focus on the people involved, and be mindful of the impact their kindness or generosity may have had on you, more so than on the actions involved.

Practice this Gratitude Meditation:*

  • Take a few deep, calming breaths to relax and center yourself. Let your awareness move to your immediate environment and notice all that is around you. As you notice each thing, say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
  • Next, bring to mind those people in your life to whom you are close–your friends, family, partner…. As you think of each one, say to yourself, “For this, I am grateful.”
  • Now turn your attention to yourself, remembering that you are a unique individual, blessed with imagination, the ability to communicate, to learn from the past and plan for the future, to overcome any pain you may be experiencing. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
  • Finally, rest into the realization that life is a precious gift. Be grateful for any gifts of health, support, and all spiritual blessings. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
*Adapted from a meditation in: Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life by author Vajragupta (Richard Stauton)

 

 

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