What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude can be defined as “a feeling of thankfulness for a benefit that an individual has received”. These could be from nature, someone else, something else, an animal, machinery, technology, religion or anything else in between. However, it is not the same as “indebtedness” where the individual feels that they owe something to somebody else and are therefore under obligation to repay them.
Why Do I Need A List?
The aim of a gratitude list is to help people focus on the good things that are in their life. Humans have a tendency to take the good stuff we have for granted, but this type of journaling can prevent this from happening. By keeping a record of the things that they feel grateful for, it will ensure a more positive outlook on life, what we have, what we experience and also what we do not have (illness or disease for example). This can be particularly important for people who are in recovery from active substance addiction. It is when people take their recovery for granted that they are most likely to lose it.
“If you don’t use it, you’ll loose it“
Being thankful for the things we have and also thankful for the negative things we have managed to cast out of our lives makes us more humble than someone who have not experienced addiction and realise how grateful we are afterwards to have survived it and overcome it! That’s why the quote, “if you don’t use it, you’ll loose it” comes into play. We must always be thankful and grateful for the positive things we have and the negative things we have let go of, as it can be taken away from us just as easily if we do not maintain our recovery efforts and remain grateful that we have not reverted back to our old coping strategies that ended up leading us to seeking recovery. If you are new to abstinence or recovery however, expressing gratitude may not be as easy to you as it may be for others. Time and experience will help you develop your gratification for being in recovery. Out of feelings of pain and hopelessness, you may be wondering things like, “What do I have to be grateful for in recovery?” and “What is the point?” Maybe your Key worker, sponsor, family member or friend who is also in recovery recommended that you create a gratitude list. You may be wondering where to start.
Fortunately, gratitude goes hand-in-hand with emotional and psychological healing. By paying attention to the positive things in our lives and expressing our thanks for them, we can achieve mental stability, foster more healthy, positive thought patterns and find greater happiness in even the smallest, inconspicuous things.
The Power of a Gratitude List in Recovery
Addiction – particularly substance addiction, in which the chemical makeup of your brain gets disrupted is inherently negative in nature. It provokes negative feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, embarrassment, pain, depression, and low self-worth. When you were using or drinking, chances are you had a habit of focusing on all the misery and painful points in your life, the things that life inflicted on you and the things that you inflicted on yourself and those around you. More than likely, when you were addicted, you were thinking only of yourself rather than those around you. This is common for most addicts so don’t feel alone in sharing that fact.
Gratitude, and listing it, is quite the opposite. It evokes a positive outlook and attitude towards what you have now and what you receive as time goes by. It reduces conflict and feelings of isolation. It inspires us to keep going, bringing us feelings of fullness and joy in our lives. It reminds us to open our eyes, minds and hearts and that we do in fact have things to be thankful for in recovery. Gratitude also has physical benefits for our bodies, including a healthier heart rate, lowers blood pressure and stress levels according to recent studies. Drug treatment experts also agree that gratitude can positively influence a person’s chances at a successful recovery. It reduces the chance of relapse by helping them focus on the positives rather than the negatives which promotes motivational feelings to progress further in our recovery. That is why so many professionals and addicts in recovery encourage you to create a “gratitude list.”
A gratitude list in recovery is exactly what it sounds like, a written list of all the things that you are grateful for in recovery and in your life. It is not, however, a one-time assignment. A gratitude list is an ongoing, everyday endeavour. It may start with the top 10 things you are thankful for, but each day or week, should continue to grow. Regularly, you should add at least one more item to your gratitude list. We recommend starting with a blank notebook or space in your phone, tablet or computer so that your gratitude list has room to grow.
Again, if you are just starting your recovery journey, this all may be easier said than done. In early recovery, it can be hard to find things to be thankful for when you are simultaneously battling withdrawal symptoms and the consequences or realities of your drug or alcohol problem. This is okay. You can always start small as most others do. Are you thankful to be clean/sober and safe? Are you grateful to be alive? Write that down and maybe start from there!
How Do I Start To Create A Gratitude List?
- Start by Finding Things to Be Grateful for in Recovery
If you are new to gratitude lists, start by listing 5-10 of the most obvious things that you are thankful for, such as being alive, having good physical/mental health, having your vision and hearing, having the opportunity to get into recovery when many others don’t as so on. Whatever you yourself are most grateful for.
Remember: These lists are personal to you only! What you put on your list is for only you to know and if you were to compare it with others, 9/10 times they would all look completely different.
Finding gratitude in recovery and therefore creating a gratitude list in recovery requires change: a change in your attitude, a change in your outlook and also a willingness to continue to make changes. There are ways to ignite this change and to establish a more positive, grateful perspective in life, such as:
- Stop Comparing Yourself To Others And Focus On You Loving You. Comparing yourself to the successes of others will only evoke negative feelings inside you. Remember that no one is perfect and everyone has their struggles, even if you cannot see them right away. Focus on your own success and find ways to love yourself. Be thankful for who you are, who you are becoming and why you have come as far as you have, even if it is just deciding to create your gratitude list which you may not have done so 6 months ago. Be proud of all you achieve, even the tiny things!
- Surround Yourself With Other Positive People. Surrounding yourself with positive people will help trigger optimism in your life. Being around positive role models will also help inspire your success and promote confidence and motivation to progress, develop and grow in your recovery.
- Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness in recovery means finding a state of being present in that particular moment, rather than thinking about the past or the future. At the time, only that moment matters. One way to practice mindfulness is to stop and think about the things you are grateful for in your recovery. Take some time to do this every day, to reflect on the present moment and add to your gratitude list.
- Keep Your Gratitude Journal Or Gratitude List Nearby. A gratitude list or gratitude journal in recovery will remind you of everything you have to be grateful for, the good things in your life. When you experience cravings or negative feelings, you can simply open your notebook and look at the many positive aspects of your life. This list will remind you of the little things you may have forgotten along the way. You can also list the things that you are grateful not to have anymore, such as not having to wake up feeling unwell every morning, being able to go out and buy something without worrying if you have enough money for what you want to buy as well as your drugs or alcohol and so on. These types of entries on your list will help show you how far you have come, even when it may not feel that way.
Things To Put On Your Gratitude List In Recovery
There are an untold amount of things to be grateful for in recovery and you can start identifying them by asking yourself this question:
“What is great about your life right now”?
You probably have some of the following things to be grateful for without even being consciously aware of it. See how many of our examples match your current situation? This is not a test, just some examples:
- You are clean/sober?
- You woke up without a hangover?
- You are in good health?
- You look good and healthy?
- You have a supportive family?
- You have a loyal sober network of friends?
- You are a better friend and family member?
- You have 12-step meetings, Key workers, sponsors and support groups to keep you going?
- You have freedom – you are not trapped, emotionally or physically, by anxiety or behind bars?
- You have career opportunities and the ability to work?
- You have a growing bank account?
- You have the potential to make a difference in the lives of others?
- You can accomplish your goals without being held back by drugs or alcohol?
But don’t let us do the work for you! Start by closing your eyes. Take some deep breaths in and out. Be present in that very moment. Reflect. Be grateful. Write, draw or doodle even, whatever works for you. Do what makes you feel good, healthy and positive about the day. Not just special occasions or particular times of the year, but every day moving forward.
Creating a gratitude list in recovery is an effective relapse prevention tool, in that it can give you a sense of meaning and purpose in your life when you may find things becoming a bit tough. It gives a voice to what you feel inside and allows you to recognise even the littlest things that make your life better. As famous musician Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” You can do this, too!
Where To Get Started?
Below we have given you 3 different examples of possible gratitude list styles that you could try if you have never created one before? You may decide that you want to track your progress and create a gratitude list for each day as shown in the top example, creating a small list in the morning and being able to reflect on your day in the evening. You may feel that you would like to keep your list more free-flowing and simply create one list that can be added to at any time, no matter what day or time it is? As our second example shows. However, as a bit of fun, try our third example, to list one thing, each beginning with a letter from the alphabet (A-Z).