“Both ancient teachings and modern medical research agree that one of the quickest, most direct routes to restoring harmony and balance in our lives is to foster gratitude and appreciation,” wrote Joel and Michelle Levey in a 2011 article entitled “Understanding The Science Of Gratitude.”
“The moment you shift from a mindstate of negativity or judgment to one of appreciation, there are immediate effects at many levels of your being: Brain function becomes more balanced, harmonized, and supple; your heart begins to pump in a much more coherent and harmonious rhythm, and biochemical changes trigger a host of healthful responses throughout your body. Especially in difficult times, remembering to return to gratitude is a radical life-affirming act that builds your capacity for resilience.”
“Giving thanks can make you happier,” affirms the Harvard Healthbeat. “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
The misuse of drugs and alcohol is often induced by a sense of despair caused by traumatic life experiences or mood disorders. Gratitude is forgotten while fear and negativity reign until the journey to recovery begins.
Psychologists use the term “cognitive distortions” to describe irrational thoughts that distort a person’s perception of reality, usually in a negative way. Typical cognitive distortions are black and white thinking (something is either good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing), catastrophizing (any unpleasant experience is perceived as the worst possible outcome), and discounting positive experiences (any positive information about an event or experience is unacknowledged or ignored).
Cognitive distortions are common and habitual. Often, people with such thought patterns don’t realize they have the power to change them. Many simply believe that’s “just the way it is.” A negative mindset reinforces painful emotions and perpetuates the feeling of being powerless to change. It’s also a mindset conducive to drug and alcohol misuse.
That’s why shifting from a negative mindset to a positive one facilitates an easier journey to long-term recovery. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is an important component of that. It begins with consistency; consistency to focus on what one is thankful for or appreciative of until it becomes part of a daily routine. Here are some gratitude routines that may help:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Make a gratitude list each morning to highlight what one is thankful for
- Use guided or silent meditation or prayer (morning is best, if possible)
- Show appreciation of others through (small) acts of kindness
- Focus on positive feelings and experiences and become more aware of them as they are happening in and around oneself
“The miracle of the practice of gratitude is that it reverses this pattern of looking outwardly for satisfaction, and instantly puts us in touch with all the many gifts and blessings already present in our life,” wrote Joel and Michelle Levey. It empowers people on their journey to long-term recovery.