Have you recently decided to stop drinking? You have a lot to be thankful for — and a lot to look forward to.
On the other side of the coin, you also have significant challenges ahead of you. Recovery is a lifelong journey that includes obstacles and hardships that could potentially threaten your sobriety.
Could positive thinking — specifically, gratitude — help you stay motivated and foster overall well-being?
Many believe so, explaining why being thankful is a recurring theme in so many recovery support groups.
If nurturing gratitude is easier said than done, we have some tips.
What Is Gratitude?
We all have instinctive ideas about what gratitude means, but it’s useful to explore them a little deeper.
Merriam-Webster’s non-definition (“the state of being grateful”) doesn’t help much, but a psychological lens sheds more light on the nature of gratitude and the reason it may help stabilize your sobriety.
In psychology, gratitude is recognized as more than a feeling — it’s a two-step process:
- You understand that you are enjoying a positive outcome (although not necessarily an ideal outcome).
- You recognize that “an external source” (someone other than you) had something to do with that positive outcome. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your gratitude, the external sources at play could include other people, God, the universe, or even luck.
Some people are naturally more grateful than others, called “trait gratitude,” but everyone can nurture feelings of appreciation and thankfulness.
Does Embracing Gratitude Help with Recovery?
While research on the association between feelings of gratitude and long-term sobriety is sparse, some studies have looked into this topic. At the moment, it looks like gratitude can play a positive role in recovery for some (but not all) sober alcoholics.
That is, feeling too grateful while you’re still drinking may stand in the way of pursuing sobriety. However, once you’re strong in your abstinence, actively appreciating the world, the people in it, and your progress can help you stay sober.
Freeing yourself from alcohol will likely make you feel grateful all by itself — but, if you find yourself slipping into negative thought patterns, finding things to be thankful for could help you stay on the path.
Research shows that gratitude also has more general benefits, all of which can help you with your recovery process:
- Being grateful may make you healthier.
- Adopting a thankful outlook on life can increase your mood and overall happiness.
- Actively practicing gratitude helps you build friendships and other meaningful social relationships.
You might find our article on A Sober Look at Relationships and Communications tips worth a read.
How to Be Grateful
Try and take small steps towards being more Grateful.
You have countless ways to nurture a grateful attitude. Turn gratitude into a habit with these tips!
1. Notice the Small Things
It’s easy to notice the negative, but do you also notice everything that goes well? When you start paying attention, you’ll see a sprinkling of little things that conspire to make your day (and, indeed, your life!) just a tiny bit more enjoyable.
Sunny weather, a helpful customer service agent, an understanding spouse, and a random stranger who held the door open for you all deserve to be noticed. If you decide to take note of everything that goes better than it might have, you’ll suddenly discover there is a lot to be grateful for!
2. Be Grateful for Your Sobriety
Don’t take it for granted. Remember how alcohol made you feel, and take a moment to notice how much clearer and better you feel now that you no longer depend on its presence in your life. By extension, be grateful for your efforts and the support you received in your recovery journey so far.
If you are part of a recovery support group, pass it forward by taking a moment to talk about your gratitude — and tell everyone who has touched your life how much you appreciate their support.
3. Establish a Daily Gratitude Ritual
Take a while — just five minutes is plenty — to devote to everything you appreciate about your life in this moment. Your personal gratitude practice could include meditation, sharing what you’re grateful for at dinner, or writing in a gratitude journal.
Nothing is too small or big to mark. Reflecting on everything that’s going well ensures you won’t take anything for granted and helps you welcome a new day with increased well-being and positivity.
4. Write Gratitude Letters
If you’re anything like most people (including most people in recovery from alcohol addiction), you’re keenly aware that your story could have had a different ending. You know that a large number of people have impacted your life course to get you to where you are now. How many did you sincerely thank for their help or mentorship?
Do it now!
You could make a list of everyone whose support has influenced your journey positively and take the time to write each a personal letter of thanks. As you do this, you don’t have to touch on the guilt and shame that may also play roles in these relationships. Focus only on gratitude and appreciation.
You don’t have to send the letters you write — but if you do, you could uplift another person along your journey to gratitude.
5. Voice Your Gratitude
In the company of others, verbally express the things you’re grateful for. It will only take a moment, and that moment can brighten someone else’s day as well as your own.
6. Help Others
Finally, helping other people is the ultimate expression of gratitude.
You’ve had better outcomes than you might have had. You recognize that a multitude of factors helped you get to the place you are today. Even if you still have progress to make, you also have a lot to be grateful for.
One of those things is your ability to help other people. Share the wisdom you gained along your road to sobriety. Be a role model. Offer your support in practical ways. As you have received help and support, offer others in your life this gift — and give them a reason to be grateful.