How Do I Practice Gratitude in Recovery?

a man grateful for his mental health and substance abuse recovery
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If you’re moving into recovery, they you’re probably very aware of the fact that gratitude is an important part of it. Gratitude is part of most recovery programs, including self-help groups like 12-Step, SMART, and in many forms of therapy. That’s important, because for many people it means stepping back, acknowledging what is going well, seeing the little things, and appreciating life for what it is now. Gratitude is about dropping the constant need for things to be better or different than they are now and looking to what you have now and what is going well and being thankful for it. That mindset can shift how you feel about your day and improve how you feel, because it can make it more obvious that things are going well.

Gratitude can mean being appreciative of what you have, it can mean showing appreciation to people, and it can mean acknowledging that things are good. In any of these cases, it means actively appreciating what’s there, and that will be good for you as you move forward in recovery.

Take Time to Figure Out What You’re Grateful For

Figuring out what you have to be grateful for can be an ongoing process. It’s not enough to stop and go once, X and Y happen and I am grateful for that. Instead, gratitude is often an active practice. Like meditation or yoga. You have to actively do it. That means setting time aside to experience gratitude. For many people that should be a bit of time every day. E.g., before you go to bed.

  • Gratitude Journaling – Stopping to write down what you were grateful for in your day is a tactic that a lot of people use to make gratitude feel more concrete. Many forms of behavioral therapy will ask you to start gratitude journaling. Here, you simply stop and spend 10-15 minutes a day at the end of the day writing down everything you were grateful for during that day.
  • You don’t have to write things down to practice it. Just thinking about all the things you’re grateful for can be enough. Here, you want to think about what you have to be thankful for, what you are thankful for, etc., It’s important to only think about things you are grateful for, not things you should be grateful for. E.g., something can be a great opportunity but it might not feel good to you yet and you shouldn’t be forcing emotions.

Often, things you’re grateful for can vary a great deal. Sometimes they’re big things like having opportunities to get treatment or a great mentor to support you. They can also be small things like a beautiful day, having time to hang out with a friend, a really great conversation, making another day in your recovery goals. Think about what’s making you happy, what’s giving you opportunities, what’s giving you space to be where you want to be.

a woman doing some meditation practising mindfulness

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of trying to live in the present and to redirect thoughts to the present and out of worry, anxiety, or even fantasy. It’s the practice of paying attention to what you’re doing right in the moment and experiencing it fully. That practice can help you to experience your life more fully and to experience little things, which means you’ll have that much more to be grateful for. At the same time, this practice can help you to reduce worry and to reduce anxiety – which also means you’ll feel better.

Practicing mindfulness can mean:

  • Taking part in mindfulness courses and mindfulness coaching or therapy, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Engaging in exercise to help you feel more in tune with your body and therefore more aware of it
  • Practice actively redirecting your thoughts back to what you are doing whenever you catch thoughts wandering
  • Take time to look for small things and appreciate them. Actively go “what do I appreciate right now” at points during the day. That can be something small like the sun shining or your chair being comfortable or having gotten through all of your email or it’s 10 minutes till lunch. You’re appreciating the moment not life-changing or big things.

Mindfulness is about enjoying “right now” and being part of it. Sometimes that’s not pleasant. Sometimes it’s tedious. But, it will give you a lot more to be grateful for because you’ll actually be actively experiencing things to be grateful for.

Express Gratitude

You might be surprised to learn that telling people what you’re grateful for can help you to feel grateful. In fact, talking about gratitude can also help you to be more aware of what you are grateful for. Here, expressing gratitude normally means:

  • Telling people when they do something that you appreciate
  • Thanking people for being part of your life
  • Acknowledging effort from others

The more you express gratitude to others, the more they will express gratitude to you. That can also be very good feedback for you, because you start out telling people how they impact you and get back getting to feel good about how you impact others.

You can also express gratitude by actually giving back. For example, by volunteering. If you go to meetings, help with cleanup, coffee service, volunteer for speaking or meeting prep, etc. That will actively make you feel good and like you’re part of the community, which means you’ll feel better about the things you’re doing as well. Of course, if  you’re in the early stages of recovery, you want to avoid volunteering around substance abuse such as in a soup kitchen or a shelter.

Accept that Life Isn’t Perfect

For many people the largest barrier between experiencing gratitude is the expectation that life should be something that it isn’t. Many of us create idealized images of what life should look like and then when life doesn’t hold up, we feel let down, cheated, disapointed. The thing is, life is never going to be perfect, there are always going to be problems, flaws, bad days. Even your best day is going to have moments of stress. Those moments should be part of your day and they should not detract from your day. Taking steps to acknowledge that life is imperfect, that you are imperfect, that things will go wrong, that you will make mistakes, your friends will make mistakes, and forgiving those imperfections is critical in finding gratitude in your daily life. That’s also true for accepting and forgiving yourself for big mistakes. The most you can do is take steps to make things right, to make sure things go well, and to care for your future.

Groups like AA, SMART, and most recovery programs will use words like gratitude to mean you should acknowledge what you have in life. That often means being able to get perspective, to appreciate the things going well, and to appreciate little things. At the same time, you might have a hard time doing that in early recovery. As you grow in recovery and your brain returns to normal health, you’ll have an easier and easier time finding gratitude. So, make sure you take time to think about what you’re grateful for, to thank people, to appreciate things as they happen, but don’t force it. Things will happen as they happen, and the best way to get there is to keep taking care of yourself and your recovery so that you are on a constant path of improvement.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide community-based recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living. Recovery IS possible!

About Jim Sugel

SEO and Digital Marketing Expert Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry. His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.