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Cultivating Gratitude for Mental Wellness

We can experience profound benefits from gratitude in both our mental and physical well-being -- especially when in recovery. A positive attitude can boost our mood, reduce stress, and improve our overall well-being when we focus on the good things in life, big or small.

The Importance of Gratitude

Gratitude has been linked to mental wellness by a large body of research. People who regularly practice gratitude report feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives, according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Additionally, they showed fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In another study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, gratitude was shown to support resilience in stressful situations. By being grateful for our good fortunes, we are better able to cope with difficult times.

Positivity can also have a positive impact on behavior and enable a more sustainable recovery-oriented lifestyle. A person suffering from substance abuse or addiction is likely to display symptoms of depression, and to be self-centered, thinking only of themselves. Thanks to gratitude, they are less selfish, which allows them to focus on others. Being grateful in recovery increases optimism, gives people a sense of control, and reduces stress.

In general, says Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life.” According to his research, practicing gratitude can have the following benefits:

Physical Benefits:

  • A greater interest in exercise and self-care

  • Sleep that is more restful and better

  • An improved immune system

  • A reduction in the sensation of aches and pains

  • Lower blood pressure

Psychological Benefits:

  • An increase in positive emotions, including an increase in alertness and awakeness

  • An increased sense of pleasure and joy

Social Benefits:

  • Compassion, generosity, and helpfulness are increased

  • An increased sense of forgiveness

  • A greater interest in being outgoing

  • A reduction in loneliness and isolation

The practice of gratitude has profound implications not only on the thoughts and behaviors of people in recovery from addiction and dual diagnosis but also on how they interact with the world around them. People who are grateful are able to celebrate the present and be active participants in their lives.

The Link Between Gratitude and Recovery

In addiction recovery, gratitude is important for a number of reasons.

The first benefit is that it can help you reframe your perspective and focus on the positive aspects of your life. During early recovery, when cravings and negative thoughts may overwhelm you, this can be particularly helpful.

A second benefit of gratitude is that it can boost your mood and self-esteem. Appreciating the good things in your life can boost your self-esteem and confidence. Recovering from addiction can be easier with this method of avoiding cravings and staying motivated.

Thirdly, gratitude strengthens relationships. By expressing gratitude to others, you show them that you care about them and appreciate them. As a result, trust and intimacy can be built, which can be essential to a successful recovery.

Fourth, gratitude can promote a sense of meaning and purpose. You can feel grateful when you make a difference in the world and that your life is worth living. By staying motivated and focused, you can achieve your recovery goals more quickly.

Last but not least, gratitude helps people become more resilient to challenges. Being grateful can help people recognize setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.

How to Practice Gratitude

In order to cultivate gratitude in our lives, we can use a variety of methods. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make a list of three to five things you are grateful for every day. You can start with something simple, like a hot cup of coffee in the morning, or you can start with something big, such as your health or a loved one.

  • Take a few minutes each day to reflect on the good things in your life. While brushing your teeth, commuting to work, or walking, you can do this. Think about what you appreciate in life and what makes it enjoyable.

  • Be mindful of the present moment. Every day, take some time to sit or lie down and focus on your breath. Observe your body's sensations and the sounds around you. By doing so, you can become more aware of the good things in your life, no matter how small.

  • Send thank-you notes. Writing thank-you notes to the people who have made a difference in your life is another way to express gratitude. No matter who it is, whether it is a friend, a family member, a mentor, a teacher, a higher power, or a treatment professional, taking the time to express your gratitude can strengthen your relationship with them and foster a sense of gratitude in both parties.

  • Keep your focus on what you have. When you're recovering, in particular, it's easy to get caught up in the things you've lost: health, job, relationships. By shifting your focus to what you do have, you will start to see all the blessings in your life. Recovery gives you a fresh start to build an even better life. You've been given a second chance, so focus on what you have.

  • Give back to others. One of the best ways to feel grateful is to help others. Giving back can be as simple as volunteering, making a donation, or simply listening to someone in need. By taking our attention away from ourselves and our problems, we can see all the ways we are fortunate and what we have to offer.

  • Practice compassion. You can feel more connected to the world when you are kind and compassionate to others. You can also find that you are more appreciative of what you have in your life.

  • Make gratitude a part of your daily routine. As an example, you might start your day by writing down three things you're grateful for, or finish your day by reflecting on the good things that happened to you.

Being grateful is a journey rather than a destination. The process takes time and effort to become a habit. Nevertheless, it's worth it.

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