Being thankful is a fundamental part of recovery, but it’s also a big part of living a sober life in addiction recovery. Gratitude is an essential part of sober living all year long. In working the 12 steps, people in recovery learn the true meaning of gratitude as they experience a spiritual awakening in recovery and work to apply it to their everyday lives.
What is Gratitude?
The definition of the word gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”1 Being grateful is often a feeling many people in recovery experience as they approach Step 12 and begin carrying the message of recovery to other people who are struggling with addiction.2
Practicing gratitude in your everyday life is more than just saying “thank you” or being internally thankful for a life that is free from addiction. Practicing gratitude is using your behavior to be an example of a person whose actions are guided by the principles of the 12 steps and then sharing that goodness with other people in your life.
Why is Gratitude Important in Recovery?
Gratitude isn’t just a nice thing to practice — it’s essential for long-term recovery. Being grateful reminds us that even when things go wrong, there are still plenty of things to be thankful for. Having a grateful mindset allows to take on challenges with a positive mindset and instead of seeing relapse as a failure, we can see it as an opportunity to improve. Practicing gratitude also teaches us how to love and respect ourselves, which enables us to love and respect others as well.
Developing a mindset and behaviors that reflect gratitude is a skill, and it will take time to grow. If you’re new to recovery and you’d like to have more gratitude, here are nine practical ways to practice gratitude in recovery.
How to Practice Gratitude in Recovery
1. Focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have.
Practicing gratitude is all about being grateful and thankful for what you have. When you focus on all the things you don’t have, it creates an attitude of ungratefulness and fosters negative emotions like jealousy and anger. Negativity can be detrimental to your recovery and make a life in sobriety seem dark, empty, and lonely.
2. Ponder a recent life lesson you’ve learned.
Life is full of experiences and challenges, many of which can teach you valuable lessons. If you recently completed drug rehab, you most likely learned a few (if not many) valuable life lessons that changed you for the better. Reflecting on these life lessons and asking yourself what you’ve learned in the last week, month, or year is a great way to practice gratitude and reflect on your own personal growth in recovery.
3. Make it a goal to give to others daily.
Practicing generosity is a big part of having gratitude. There are plenty of ways to be generous each and every day, but recognising the opportunities that come your way takes effort and attention. For example, if someone from your AA group needs a place to stay for a week, opening up your home is a great way to be generous. Or if you see someone struggling to carry groceries to their car, the simple act of offering a helping hand can go a long way.
4. Focus on the best in others instead of the worst.
It’s easy to become irritable, angry, and impatient when we focus on the worst qualities in others. Instead, focusing on the best qualities can help us maintain a positive attitude, develop patience, and be respectful of others, even when it’s not easy.
5. Take an inventory of your life.
Regularly taking inventory of your life (Step 10) is essential to the continuation of personal growth in recovery.3 It’s also a great way to assess whether or not you’re lacking gratitude, and in which areas of your life you can improve.4 Taking an inventory of your life is difficult and requires courage, but it’s an important stepping stone in the journey to developing a lifestyle that displays gratitude.
6. Start viewing challenges as opportunities.
Life will never be without challenges, sober or not, but viewing challenges as opportunities can help you establish self-efficacy (another important life skill in recovery) and resilience, while also working to overcome the victim mentality that is so common in addiction. Viewing difficult circumstances in this way will also help you avoid relapse and deal with short-term lapses in a more positive and effective way.
7. Be kind to others.
Sadly, people in recovery are often notorious for being grumpy, but that stereotype doesn’t have to be true for you. Being kind to loved ones, friends, and strangers, regardless of the type of day you’re having, is an honorable way to live. It’s also a testament to the powerful life transformation you’ve experienced as a sober individual. A little bit of kindness can make a big difference in someone else’s life and can melt away harbored feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness.
8. Take time to think about the things you’re thankful for.
Setting aside just five minutes each day to think about the things you’re thankful for is an excellent way to maintain a positive mindset, combat feelings of depression and anxiety, and have more gratitude in recovery. Even if you’re struggling through an exceptionally difficult life circumstance, there is always something to be thankful for. Sometimes all you need is a little reminder.
9. Consider something or someone you have now that you didn’t have in your addiction.
Addiction strips away all the good things in life; health, happiness, contentment … you name it. Taking a moment to think about something good you have now can serve as a reminder of how far you’ve come since your addiction. Remembering the way your life was when you were addicted doesn’t have to drudge up feelings of regret or sadness. Instead, it can improve your gratitude and remind you that the fight to stay sober is worth the effort.
Instead of focusing on material possessions this holiday season, these nine tips can help you practice gratitude in recovery and learn how to be thankful and content with what you already have.