The Power of Gratitude in Recovery this Thanksgiving Season

gratitude in addiction recovery

Gratitude. The quality of being thankful – thankful for all that we have, all that we have received, and all that has not befallen upon us. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of the positive things in life, things both big and small. The feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. The recognition of goodness. The readiness to return kindness.

We’ve all felt gratitude in some way – whether it be for that first cup of coffee in the morning, for a moment of sunshine on what feels like the darkest day, or for that one person who encouraged us to get out of bed and make a change in our lives when we thought we didn’t have the strength. Thinking about it now, it’s a warm feeling. The kind that fills your heart and makes you want to be a better you.

The Thanksgiving season is upon us. In addition to gathering with family, gobbling our favorite foods, and cozying up to the football game, many of us will be taking some extra time to reflect and “give thanks” for the blessings in our lives – the roofs over our heads, the family and friends around us, the food that is on the table – and for good health and continued healing in recovery.

If you are in recovery or have a loved one working the steps, though, it’s likely that gratitude is more of a daily than an annual recognition. That’s because it’s an essential part of the recovery process. Gratitude in recovery can help you stay clean and live sober. It can empower you to become a positive influence and motivate you to live a happy, healthy, and drug-free life. But that’s not to say it comes easily.

Gratitude in recovery is a choice, but unfortunately, not one that comes naturally to teens and young adults in addiction treatment. Upon entering drug rehab, teenagers are usually more frustrated, fearful, depressed, resistant, and isolated than they are grateful. They often feel hopeless, resentful, and choose to have a ‘woe is me’ attitude. They choose to see the world as a harsh and unfair place.

These feelings are not uncommon among addicts, especially those who have just entered early recovery. But it is these negative feelings that drive destructive behaviors like drug abuse. And it is positive feelings (like gratitude) that can help us overcome them.

As the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” In other words, if we change the way we think about life, if we change the way we think about the world around us, we can change our lives, too. By thinking positively and being grateful for what we have, we can live a more fruitful, favorable life.

Science proves it. Research from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA has shown that grateful people are more optimistic, more in control of their lives, better equipped to handle challenges, and simply less stressed than those who lack gratitude. According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California, people who consistently maintain a sense of gratefulness report a number of physical, psychological, and social benefits:

Physical Benefits of Gratitude:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Reduced aches and pains in the body
  • Increased interest in exercise and health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better sleep patterns and longer nights of restful sleep

Psychological Benefits of Gratitude:

  • Higher levels of optimism and positive emotions
  • Increased awareness and wakefulness
  • More joy, pleasure, and happiness overall

Social Benefits of Gratitude:

  • Increased desire to be generous, compassionate, and to help others
  • More forgiving and accepting
  • Higher level of self-confidence and outgoingness
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Stronger relationships as a result

What does this mean for those in addiction recovery? Gratitude in recovery promotes healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It also promotes a positive attitude and enables a person to be fully present and immersed in the recovery process. Though recovery can be difficult, maintaining a sense of gratitude helps mitigate the petty annoyances and negative feelings that too often bog us down – impatience, judgement, resentment, anger, self-pity. Gratitude in recovery helps us connect with others, and build lasting, meaningful, sober relationships with our peers and with the world.

In addition to a better state of mind, gratitude can also teach you to focus on your long-term goals and on what you want. We all know recovery is a journey. We all know that there are obstacles and bad days that arise along the way. During these times, it can feel easy to lose hope or give up. It can feel easy to focus on your downfalls. With gratitude in recovery, however, you can learn to move past them. You can be grateful for the opportunity to change, to heal, and for the immense support around you. With gratitude, you can regain the strength and momentum needed to work towards your goals.

Though gratitude is an attitude, it’s important to know that it can also be a process for those who are battling addiction. It is not easy to feel grateful just because you want to or are told to. Cultivating gratitude in recovery takes time and dedication, but here are some ways you can jumpstart the process:

  • Focus on the good – Everyday, make an active choice to focus on the good things in life, rather than the bad. Find the good in everything you see, do, and experience, and find it in everyone you meet. Keeping this positive outlook on life as a whole will open you up to a world of goodness, and will truly bolster the recovery process.
  • Purchase a “Gratitude Journal” – Each day, record at least one thing you are grateful for. This will start your “gratitude list,” something you should read over every day as a reminder of the positive aspects in your life.
  • Practice Meditation and MindfulnessMeditation and mindfulness allow you to slow down when life gets too fast, and to focus on the present – where you are, what is around you, and what you are feeling in that moment in time.
  • Do something good for someone – When you were using drugs, you were likely only concerned with yourself. You may have lied to or manipulated friends and family only to keep feeding your addiction. Now that you are in recovery, you have the opportunity to do good for others: volunteer, donate, even help a new resident at Turnbridge. Doing something good for someone, without expecting repayment, enables you to become a positive force in the world.
  • Talk with others about what makes them feel grateful – Always, it can be helpful to get an outside perspective on things. As much gratitude as you have in recovery now, hearing what others are grateful for can open your mind even further to the beauty of life and the beauty of a sober life. This Thanksgiving, ask your friends, your family, your sober network, what they are thankful for.

Gratitude, above all, promotes the positive thoughts and behaviors that support the recovery process. That is why, at Turnbridge, we encourage clients to develop an honest sense of gratitude in recovery. By the time clients graduate our drug treatment program, they are fundamentally transformed, guided by passion, gratitude, and hope. 

Turnbridge alumni Grant L. affirms this sentiment. Of his experience in our program, he says: "Things have honestly never been better. I am actually able to communicate honestly. I [now] understand what gratitude and love actually mean, and it's not empty when I say it, I mean it… I've really found my success at Turnbridge. I think it's given me the opportunity to find out who I am as an individual, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. The most important part [of Turnbridge] is the fellowship amongst everybody. I can make real connections with people. I feel my emotions, and I'm present in life. You don't know what you don't know. I had no clue what being sober meant or what it would do for me. I'm so grateful that I pushed through all that initial confusion, and I got so much more than I bargained for."

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Turnbridge encourages you to take a moment to reflect on the things you are grateful for this season. We encourage you to find gratitude in recovery now and even beyond the holidays. If you have a loved one in need of young adult drug treatment, we also encourage you to give us a call at 877-581-1793. In time, he or she will be grateful that you did.