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Gratitude as a Recovery Tool During the Holidays

By Jack Gilbert, LCSW For many, the holidays are a wonderful time of year, but for people in recovery, the holidays can sometimes be painful and overwhelming, making them vulnerable to relapse. Gratitude is a practice that can be helpful all year round, but particularly during the holiday season. For instance, simple practices like keeping a gratitude journal or gratitude list can be extremely beneficial and helpful for maintaining emotional and spiritual health.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude is the practice of feeling grateful and appreciative. Gratitude is a valuable recovery tool for helping people maintain balance and peace of mind, and for strengthening their sobriety. The many benefits to practicing gratitude on a daily basis include experiencing more positive emotions, feeling more alive, sleeping better, expressing more compassion and kindness, and even bolstering the immune system. Here’s what some of the research on practicing gratitude says:

  • Scientists studying positive psychology found that a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms.
  • Psychologist and researcher Jeffrey Froh created and implemented a gratitude curriculum for kids ages 8 to 11. The youngsters who received the lessons showed an increase in grateful thinking, appreciation and positive emotions as compared to their classmates who did not partake.
  • A recent study found that people who were on the receiving end of gratitude noticed that their partners were more responsive to their needs and overall were more satisfied with their relationships.

In short, gratitude is a tool any of us can use to make our lives and the lives of those we love and interact with better during the holidays and throughout the year.

Tips for Cultivating an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’

Like most skills, cultivating an attitude of gratitude takes effort and practice, but the process is not difficult or even time consuming. Here are some small gratitude practices you can easily implement in everyday life:

  • Spend 10 minutes a day writing in a journal about the people, places, things and experiences you are grateful for.
  • If journaling is not your thing, make a gratitude list or write some notes (old-schoolers), emails or texts to people and tell them why you are grateful for them. It will not only make you feel good, but it will make their day as well.
  • If writing is just not for you, record your journal or gratitude list on a voice memo on your phone or other recording device, or call or sit down face-to-face with a family member, friend or coworker and tell them why you are grateful for them and the things they have done.

Be Grateful For the Hard Times, Too

In closing, I would like to suggest that it’s important to not only be grateful for the wonderful things in your life but also for the difficult, challenging people and situations. All of us learn, develop and grow the most when we have to face the challenges and painful situations that life inevitably brings us. It’s easy to get lost in the challenge, the pain, the anxiety and other emotions we experience in these moments. What is often missed is that it is these situations — perhaps some of our darkest moments — that have given us the strength to ask for help and set us on the path to recovery.

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