As Thanksgiving approaches, we like to encourage our residents and patients to take the time to reflect on what they’re thankful for. This isn’t just a holiday tradition – gratitude is actually a scientifically-backed practice that can help tremendously in the recovery process. For people in recovery, gratitude is an essential tool for continued sobriety and one that should be used year-round, not just during the holidays. This is because gratitude reminds us of why we’re sober, reduces the stresses and frustrations that trigger relapses, and actually reshapes the reward and impulse centers in our brain. 

What Is Gratitude?

Gratitude is an acknowledgment of a benefit that you have received. You can be grateful for something that has happened to you in the past, or grateful for something that will happen in the future. You can also cultivate a general attitude of gratefulness in your everyday life. Over time, gratitude can become a permanent part of your personality, which has a positive impact on your physical and mental health.

How Does Gratitude Help Change the Addiction Mindset?

Addiction is, at its core, a selfish disease. When we’re in the throes of addiction, our brains offer us every reason it can find to keep the drugs or alcohol coming. “It’s me versus the world,” “Everyone is out to get me,” “No one understands me.” Our brains develop this selfish worldview as a defense mechanism to protect us from the shame and guilt that come with our erratic behavior. Gratitude is the opposite of selfishness. 


Gratitude forces you to look outside of yourself and acknowledge the good things and good people in your world. This allows us to develop humility and gratefulness, which can improve your mindset and give you a much more positive outlook on life. Many, many studies on gratitude and thankfulness have found that people who practice it regularly are:  


  • More optimistic
  • Better able to handle challenges
  • Have more energy
  • Feel more in control of their bodies and lives
  • Think more clearly
  • Are less stressed
  • Have healthier habits
  • Have stronger relationships
  • Live longer


How Can I Practice Gratitude?

Like everything else involved in the recovery process, developing an attitude of gratitude takes time. It takes time to change your brain chemistry. It takes time to heal the wounds of the past and forgive yourself and others. It takes time to rebuild trust. But just like everything else in recovery, we approach cultivating gratitude one day at a time. Here are some easy ways to get started. 

Appreciate the Simple Things

Before you roll your eyes, remember that things are often cliche because they are true. Like the phrase “start small.” It’s not sappy or simple to notice and appreciate the small, good things in your life, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the big things. But pausing to note and really experience the simple positive things in your life can make a huge impact on your mental health and your recovery. 


Not sure where to start? When you’re recovering from addiction, a common place to start is being grateful that you are alive to see this day. We often learn through our mistakes not to take this for granted. Being grateful for your sobriety is another great place to start. Because no matter what else is happening in your life, you can be grateful to be alive and grateful for your sobriety. And once you’ve listed those two things, other opportunities to be grateful always seem to find a way to appear. 


Next, think about what makes you smile. Whether it’s a silly meme, a picture, a joke, or a flower – be grateful for the pleasure that moment gave you. Work your way up to being grateful for five things a day. Then ten. Eventually, you’ll find that you’re feeling grateful for just about everything as your brain adjusts to a new way of thinking. 


Try keeping a journal and writing down the things you are grateful for. It often helps to have a visual record that you can look at. And it helps ensure that you’re really working through your thoughts and feelings. You can write about how these things made you feel or you can just make a list. 


Every day, go back and add to that list and read over it – watch as it grows. There is an infinite number of things to be grateful for in this life. And understanding that instills a sense of peace and satisfaction in your life that can help lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety that lead to relapse. 


For more tools on recovery, contact Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center. We’re here to help.