Gratitude is a word often heard in treatment and 12-Step recovery programs. Such places carry slogans like “an attitude of gratitude”, and daily gratitude is suggested as a spiritual or self-care practice. While struggling with substance use or mental health challenges, it can feel as if there is little to be grateful for at all. Perhaps counterintuitively, these low points in life are when gratitude becomes the most beneficial. Gratitude can change perspective and positively reinforce reasons to trudge forward.
Start Simple and Grow
The concept of gratitude seems to carry an expectation that there should be joy at all times. However, the actual definition of grateful is “appreciative of benefits received”. Detaching from expectations or connotations can make is simpler to build a list of things to be thankful for. Start simple. Look for the things that people have a tendency to take for granted, i.e. a full stomach, a bed to sleep in, a functioning car. These are the basics, but you can build from there. If you’re grateful for the bed you sleep in, you can have gratitude for a good night’s sleep. If there is gratitude for a good night’s sleep, there is gratitude for what can be accomplished with the energy provided.
From this fundamental practice and changed perspective, there is an opportunity to grow in gratitude. Another suggestion is to start with things that may not inspire appreciation at first glance. Then, try pausing to examine how that feeling might be changed. For example, most people don’t feel grateful to get up and go to work each morning. Sometimes a job is stressful or unfulfilling. On the other hand, you’re likely to be thankful for the income it provides. Consider the people you work with, as well. You can practice embracing gratitude for a coworker that has become a friend. These basic concepts can be expanded on as well. Perhaps you can discover an appreciation for a gift or unexpected bill the income paid for. Take time to explore daily life and think about what parts inspire feelings of thankfulness.
Making It a Practice
There will be challenges in life that make finding gratitude feel like an impossible and unimportant chore. When navigating the more challenging events in life, finding reasons to be grateful can be more difficult, but also necessary. If there is a daily gratitude practice in place, it’s easier to remain grateful when painful emotions and unpleasant situations arise.
How does it become a practice? As with all daily practices, several things can be done to build a routine. Some tools will work better than others depending upon your schedule and personality. Check out these ideas for inspiration:
- Make a list – Goal setting is always helpful in building routines. Choose several items and commit to making a list of them daily. Some days there may be more and some days will take extra thought.
- Set a time – Consider if you’re more likely to feel grateful at a particular time of day. It can be part of a morning routine upon awakening or a nightly practice to reflect upon the day. Pick whatever part of the day works best for you.
- Accountability – Often, a practice of gratitude is best when shared with others. Ask friends or loved ones to join in and create a group text or email where lists can be shared. This not only creates accountability but can also serve as an inspiration or a reminder for your list.
- Keep a journal – It may be helpful to have a tangible reminder of your daily gratitude. A daily list can be added to an existing journal, or a specific gratitude journal can be kept.
- Keep it simple – Not every item on a gratitude list needs to be profound or unique. Avoid overthinking it. Nothing is too small or simple, especially if the list is being shared with others.
- Avoid expectations – Do it for the practice, not for the outcome. While it’s reasonable to hope that the routine will make you feel good, avoid making a gratitude list with hopes of a specific end result.
Gratitude is an action word. If making lists isn’t helpful at first, start looking at ways to actively display your appreciation. Start with the reason you’re grateful, then work to reflect that in your actions. Show your appreciation for the bed you sleep in by making it each morning. If you’re thankful for a treatment alumni program, prioritize attendance of alumni functions. Try making the action unique to the reason for your thankfulness. Take time to look a little closer. Rather than just gratitude for your job, you may be grateful that the job provides a flexible schedule. Show your appreciation by taking care always to give proper notice about schedule changes.
It’s All About Perspective
When self-pity or sadness is pervasive, gratitude serves as a tool to shift perspective and highlight reasons to feel thankful. It can shine a light on a seemingly negative situation and bring joy to otherwise ordinary days. Gratitude has the power to create and expand upon our connection to other people and the world at large. If we remain grateful, we draw attention to the shared nature of the journey. Making a practice of finding reasons to be thankful can reveal hope in life’s most challenging times and inspire positivity to carry into each day.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.