Much of treatment for addiction and mental illness is about relieving a disorder, such as reprocessing a traumatic event so it no longer makes you anxious, or medicating ADHD so you can concentrate for more than three seconds at a time. However, it’s also important to build skills that will make you a happier person. Gratitude is one of the most powerful skills you can use to improve your life in recovery for the following reasons.
Gratitude changes your focus.
If you’ve been struggling with addiction or mental illness, you may dwell on things that have gone wrong in your life and feel uniquely burdened. You may spend a lot of time ruminating on your past mistakes, perhaps blaming others, or you may spend a lot of time worrying about things that might go wrong in the future. This is a perfect formula for depression and anxiety. It’s also a cognitive distortion. There probably are things in your life that you wish were better, but when you dwell on these, you ignore all the things that are actually pretty good. As it happens, we can’t focus on the good and bad simultaneously. When you make a conscious effort to be grateful for what’s good in your life, you change your focus and pay less attention to what’s bad.
Gratitude banishes resentment.
Resentment may figure significantly in addiction. You think about all the bad things that have happened to you and see them as someone else’s fault. You may look at others and feel envious that they have it so much better. However, the grass is always greener and plenty of people envy what you have. Wouldn’t it be great to envy what you, yourself, have? Being grateful for what you have weakens your resentments. It also allows you to take more responsibility for your life. It’s easy to take responsibility for the good things in your life, but taking responsibility for the bad things is often painful.
Gratitude helps build stronger relationships.
Grateful people are typically more positive and more pleasant to be around. People who are chronically dissatisfied and critical tend to bring you down. Having a more positive orientation towards life makes it easier to make friends. What’s more, expressing your gratitude to someone else is a great way to strengthen relationships. People like to feel appreciated. Acknowledging how others make your life better is one of the best compliments you can give. Stronger relationships are one of the best predictors of success in recovery and happiness in general.
Gratitude makes you happier.
As mentioned above, gratitude is one of the best predictors of happiness. Clearly, happiness is a good thing in itself, but it also reduces your risk of relapse. Happy people sometimes drink or use drugs, but typically, they don’t feel like they need to drink or use drugs.
How do you become more grateful?
Gratitude clearly has some significant benefits, but can you develop gratitude or is your attitude more or less fixed? Studies show that with practice, you can cultivate gratitude. Here’s how.
There are two ways practicing mindfulness helps you cultivate gratitude. First, it helps you be more aware of what’s happening inside your head. You notice when you’re ruminating or worrying and you learn to distance yourself from those thoughts. You can say to yourself, ‘Oh look, worry is back’, then just let the worry pass and guide your thoughts toward gratitude.
The other way mindfulness helps to cultivate gratitude is by being more aware of things to be grateful for. It’s easy to get stuck in your own head, regretting past mistakes or worrying about possible problems. Meanwhile, there may be some rather nice things in the present you’re totally neglecting. You may not notice the beautiful weather or your dog wanting attention. Mindfulness opens you up to things to be grateful for right now.
Keep a gratitude journal.
One of the ways of cultivating gratitude shown by research to be the most effective is to keep a gratitude journal. Every day, just write down three things you are grateful for and why. These can be big things, but they don’t have to be. In fact, sometimes the little things are the most powerful. You might be grateful for a stranger’s small act of kindness, or something you normally take for granted, such as clean water coming right into your bathroom at whatever temperature you want. Take a few minutes and jot these down every day for a several weeks. Then you might want to switch to once a week, perhaps on Sundays, to keep up the benefits.
Let people know you appreciate them.
Another method backed by research is to let people know you’re grateful for them or for something they did. Once a week, call, email, or text someone to thank someone. People always feel unappreciated, so this acknowledgement will make them feel better and make you feel better. This simple ritual will make you happier and strengthen your social connection.
Spend time with positive people.
There’s a saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You can’t spend all your time around negative people and expect to cultivate gratitude. Spend time around positive people who you appreciate. Positive people don’t typically respond to bitterness and complaining, and eventually, you’ll just give up on those bad habits.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities, including TMS and CBT to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.