Take It to Heart
“Keep an attitude of gratitude.” “You can’t be grateful and angry at the same time.” “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” I’m sure every one of you reading this has heard at least one of these clichés no less than a hundred times. I’m also sure that a good number of you are rolling your eyes over having to hear them again. In fact, I’m often one of the eye rollers. There are few things more annoying than someone responding to a genuine problem with an empty platitude. However, before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we should remember that many clichés become so well-worn because they’re true. I urge you to analyze each of those three phrases and take them to heart. Developing a sense of gratitude is one of the most important things we do in recovery.
The Difference Between Night and Day
First things first: if we do not cultivate gratitude in our lives, we will not recover. Let me repeat that for those of you in the back playing on your phones. Without gratitude, we. Will. Not. Recover. Period. It’s the shift to a mindset of thankfulness from its opposite that marks the change from addicted mind to recovering mind. When we cultivate gratitude, we go through the day with a sense of contentedness. We’re thankful for our opportunities and experiences and are reasonably happy with ourselves as people. And what is the opposite of this? A sense of lack. Feelings of entitlement. We are uneasy with ourselves and feel that what we have doesn’t measure up. So we begin to look externally for things to “fix” the situation. And because we are ungrateful, whatever we get isn’t enough. We always need more. Does this sound familiar?
I’m sure there are a number of you who are already equating this blog to the aforementioned clichés and are beginning to tune out. For those people, let me offer some science on the matter. A study conducted in 2003 by Emmons and McCullough shows how a little bit of gratitude can go a long way in changing our lives. One group was directed to write down five things for which they were grateful every day over the course of nine weeks. Another group wrote down five burdens or hassles a day over the same period of time. Take a guess as to which group reported an increased sense of well-being, increased optimism, and increased pro-social behavior. And this wasn’t the only study conducted. Similar studies showed increased quality of sleep, alleviation of symptoms of depression, and increased activity in the hypothalamus.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
Now that we’re all on the same page and accept the fact that, yes, a little bit of gratitude can make your life a lot better, you may be saying, “That’s great. But how do I cultivate gratitude?” Well, I’m glad you asked because I have a few ideas for you. First, you can follow the example of the study and keep a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be anything incredibly detailed – just a list of five things you’re grateful for each day. I actually do this both in the morning and right before bed, but it’s up to you. Another idea is to merely say “thank you” more often and let people in your life know you appreciate them. Finally, I would suggest doing some volunteer work. It’s an excellent way to learn some appreciation, not to mention giving back to others.
Carrying the Message
The staff at Ocean Recovery are grateful for the opportunity to help men and women who suffer from addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and co-occurring disorders. Those of us who have struggled ourselves with these issues are grateful for the chance to use our experiences for a greater good, and all of us are grateful to be able to guide others toward a new life and to watch them grow. If you or someone you love is suffering from one or more of these disorders, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would be grateful for the opportunity to help you, too.