Enter November, and National Gratitude Month. Gratitude is a word casually thrown around so often—especially around the holidays—it almost loses its meaning. But more than just a word or a feeling, gratitude is a serious tool for improving how satisfied you feel with life. Depression, stress, anxiety and loneliness can all be dramatically altered by this simple practice. This is more than just our personal experience—recent science suggests that gratitude is linked to both improved physical health and mental well-being. It’s associated with better sleep, more energy, less depression and possibly even a lower risk of heart disease. It can even boost feelings of empathy for others.
Doubtful? Me too.
When I was early in recovery, I often felt overwhelmed and distressed by the shape my life was in. I had wasted so much time, ruined so many relationships, and was moved to sheer panic anytime I considered how I was going to rebuild my life. I had a hard-wired tendency to focus on the wreckage, damage and dysfunction. Unsurprisingly, this often left me feeling just as hopeless as when I had been actively drinking and getting high.
When I shared these feelings with my sponsor and others in my 12-step community, they frequently pushed me in the direction of gratitude. They would remind me of the blessed fact of my sobriety, that I had decent health, and I had the support of a sober community. I was told to start actively practicing gratitude and jotting down a few things each day that I could feel good about.
I thought this practice was both silly and useless. Sure, I wasn’t dead in a ditch and that was fine and good, but what about the shape my life was in?? I was mostly broke, unemployable and so socially awkward that even ordering a coffee while sober was a frightening experience.
Thinking about the things I was grateful for seemed like a petty distraction and nothing more than a pat on the head from my sponsor.
Nevertheless, I did it anyway. I was desperate to stay sober and did everything my sponsor suggested with an almost superstitious fervor.
Here is the shocking result: it worked. Not only did it work, but it worked like a magic trick. Then and now, I find that practicing gratitude has a reliably transformative effect. Regardless of what I am grappling with—fear, frustration, doubt, anger—taking a moment to count my blessings suddenly puts my situation in perspective and gives me access to some calm, humor and grace.
But wait, there’s more. Gratitude works on more than just my negative emotions. When things are going well, pausing to be grateful helps me be present in the moment, absorb some of the goodness, and stills my fear that any second the “other shoe is going to drop.” Gratitude is a tool that works in every situation, and for that, I’m grateful.
For the rest of November, we will be thinking about gratitude and sharing our musings with you. Watch this space for more, and share your experience in our community forum, or in the comments below!
We are grateful for you!