Gratitude in Early Recovery

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“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
-Kurt Vonnegut

Why does gratitude matter?

To have gratitude and practice the act of being gracious means that you do not take anything for granted. Instead, you choose to find value and meaning in your experience of the world, and you take a moment to appreciate what has been given to you. 

For those in recovery, the experience of gratitude begins with focused attention towards their second chance at life, on their ability to create something new for themselves, and move away from the life they knew before. Beginning from this place of humility, those in early recovery that practice gratitude are more in tune with the direction that their lives could have taken, and thus, make choices that reflect their decision to chart a different course. 

The importance of being gracious as it relates to our overall psychological and emotional wellbeing has gained so much popularity that scientists now focus a great deal of scientific research on the subject. Research results consistently demonstrate that there is a strong relationship between practicing gratitude and positive overall wellbeing. 

How do I learn to be grateful? 

  • Focus. Start by focusing on the people, relationships, and the things in your life that you already have. Practicing gratitude means wanting what you already have instead of focusing on having what you want
  • Learn to appreciate yourself as you are. Start by stating out loud 5 positive affirmations about yourself. Say five good and positive facts about yourself, your accomplishments, and who you are as a person. Remind yourself of your qualities, virtues, history of kindness, and loving actions. Do this action every day until you genuinely begin to appreciate and truly love your own unique self.     
  • Journal. The simple act of taking the time to write things down encourages you to think about and take notice of events in your life. Journal special encounters of the day, gifts you may have received, or anyone or anything who impacted you positively in any way, etc.
  • Handwrite Thank-You notes. Taking the time to acknowledge someone else for something nice they have said or done to you not only strengthens our relationships with others but also increases our own sense of appreciation for the role they may play in our life. It’s a win-win. The recipient of your note and you, the writer, both feel good!
  • Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be as simple as taking some quiet time to deep breathe and relax. It’s a time that lets you organize your thoughts and feelings and just be in the present moment. It’s a focused time to think about the things in your life; people who have positively impacted you in any way and the beauty that surrounds you that often goes unnoticed. 
  • Talk about it. Find time in your day to verbally express the things you are grateful for.  You can verbalize your gratitude to someone else or to yourself privately. Either way, by verbalizing your gratitude, it creates an opportunity to hear out-loud what you are thinking and feeling.   

Now that you know the importance of practicing gratitude as well as some ways to implement gratitude into your life, let’s look at some of the benefits you will have. 

The Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

Expressing gratitude makes us happy!

Taking the time to thank others, even ourselves makes our lives feel more meaningful and improves our overall mood and sense of wellbeing. When we practice gratitude, we build stronger and longer-lasting relationships and experience genuine positive emotions such as happiness and contentedness. 

Our perspective and our relationships will improve

Actively practicing gratitude gives us the opportunity to share with others how much we appreciate and value their influence and contribution to our lives. We not only generate positive feelings in others, but we generate positive and healthy feelings in ourselves when we train our attention to notice the ways that others show their love and concern for us. 

Practicing gratitude helps us sleep better and have more energy

Research studies in Positive Psychology have demonstrated that expressing gratitude to others activates a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. When our hypothalamus is triggered by our practice of gratitude it creates a naturally better, less interrupted pattern of sleep for us. According to Zahn (2009), a brain filled with gratitude is more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed and energetic every morning. 

We’ll feel less anxiety and less stress

Additional studies on gratitude have shown that people who feel the effects of practicing gratitude produce less of the stress hormone, cortisol. The reduction of cortisol in our bodies has been linked with significant reductions in the symptoms of anxiety and depression

Expressing gratitude also helps us manage negative emotions like despair, sadness, guilt, and anger. People who verbalize or otherwise express their gratitude on a regular basis are more positive and emotionally content. Additionally, when they do experience stress, they are often more resilient and learn to manage their emotional reactions much more effectively.  

Practicing Gratitude is a Way of Life

Truly, every aspect of our life is positively affected by practicing gratitude.  

By first appreciating ourselves, we can begin the process of appreciating and showing thankfulness for everyone and everything else around us. We learn to take nothing for granted and instead take the time to show and feel how much we appreciate who and what we have. 

Very often the small, little things in our lives give us the most genuine and sincere pleasure. Practicing gratitude encourages us to take notice and appreciate all that we are blessed to have been given. In early recovery, this is especially important, as this is when we are working most intently on establishing a life full of healthy practices. 

As you’re working your aftercare plan, make sure that you are dedicating time and brain space to these healthy habits that truly have the power to shape your life in incredibly important ways. Gratitude is not a one-time feeling or a fleeting sentiment. It is as vital to your recovery as exercise, nutrition, and sleep.

At Launch Centers, we work with you to establish a holistic approach and create long-term recovery practices for those with alcohol and drug use, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. Contact us today and let us help you live a healthy, fulfilling life.

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