Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and other countries, a day set aside to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. President George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
Although Washington didn’t have research to back up his proclamation, today we know that an attitude of gratitude has many benefits, including improving psychological health and sleep, reducing toxic emotions, increasing happiness, reducing depression, and raising self-esteem.
What else can gratitude do?
In our groups in the treatment center, we start by rehearsing several things for which we are grateful. It’s easy to hit the low-hanging fruit, such as being thankful for socks, coffee, and ice cream, but it is more meaningful to appreciate people who have helped you in your recovery. Many of our clients appreciate this practice and take it with them even after treatment ends. It has value far beyond what most people would ever imagine.
It’s a mood-booster. Social scientist Robert Emmons developed a 21-day program for increasing thankfulness in his book, Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. It involves keeping a gratitude journal, writing gratitude letters to kind people and sharing those letters in a face-to-face meeting to express thanks. People who went through the program said they felt more optimistic, more connected to others and described better moods. Taking note of everyday thoughtfulness boosts relationships.
It’s a relationship-strengthener. When couples kept gratitude journals, chronicling the things their partner did that they appreciated; there was a measurable positive change in their perception of their partner. It was a change that lasted, in part because it translated to a greater willingness to talk through concerns. Couples said “It really transforms your perception of that person,” and “We naturally have this scarcity mentality. When we write a gratitude journal or express gratitude, we transform our perception of reality from one of scarcity to one of abundance.”
It enables you to bounce back from life’s setbacks. Studies of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer and of veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress show that keeping gratitude journals helped them get through difficult times more quickly. The term psychologists use is “resilience.” It means the ability to bounce back. People who are more resilient take the worst that life has to throw at them without allowing themselves to be defined by their setback. Optimism, forgiveness and gratitude are all useful tools for building resilience.
It’s a depression fighter. One study found that the simple act of writing down three things that made participants feel grateful was as effective at increasing a sense of well-being as spending an hour in therapy. Another study found that suicidal inpatients assigned to gratitude exercises showed clinically significant therapeutic improvement.
It helps you achieve your goals. Study participants who kept gratitude lists over two months were more likely to report completion of key goals. Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
Gratitude in Recovery
When I assembled the 10 Essential Traits of Recovery (pictured below) I incorporated the concept of gratitude in Trait #4 “Stay Grateful.” Remain humble and accepting. Be grateful for another chance to get your life back. Review what you are thankful for and be aware of how others have been kind to you. Living with a humble outlook and a healthy view of what you have and who you are, helps your recovery go beyond behavior and into deep life change. It affects your mood positively and offers encouragement along the journey. If you’d like a copy of The 10 Essential Traits of Recovery poster, it’s a free download at JourneyToRecovery.com.
Remain Grateful and Happy Thanksgiving,
Life’s a Journey. Enjoy the Ride!