Fortifying Ourselves With Gratitude By: Sarah Frank Jarvis LMFT, ATR-BC, CGP

Whether we are recovering from a loss, periods of depression, or traumatic experience(s) or “in recovery” from a substance addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, nicotine) or process addiction (sex, love, codependency, gambling, workaholism, technology), we can always find respite in the practice of gratitude. As Melodie Beattie, author of “Codependent No More” wrote,  “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” (Beattie, 1990, p. 218).  

In 12-Step recovery it is not uncommon for a sponsor to suggest engaging in a daily practice of writing a gratitude list.  While it may seem inconsequential to say “I’m grateful for sunshine, coffee, and my recovery today”, by consciously shifting your focus to gratitude you are opening yourself to experiencing life in a more positive way. It’s easy to take many things for granted, especially things we may never have had to go without. By challenging ourselves to look at the beneficial things we have, we are building a habit of appreciation and thankfulness. 

In an article titled “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention”, Emmons and Stern define both the “worldly” and “transcendent” meanings of the word “gratitude”. Gratitude as a cognitive-affective state is made up of two things: the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life and recognition that it’s source is at least partly from outside oneself. The spiritual meaning of gratitude is universal, evident across cultures worldwide, and transformational in its ability to promote resilience and healing through reciprocal benevolence.  “Authentic gratitude leads people to experience life situations in ways that call forth from them an openness to engage with the world to share and increase the very goodness they have received. It is the feeling of connection with humanity emerging from a sense of wonder and joy that participating in an intricate network of existence brings,” (Emmons & Stern, 2013, p. 847). According to the various controlled experimental trials surveyed in the article, gratitude as a personality trait has strong links to mental health and overall satisfaction in life. The practice of gratitude actually promotes resilience to trauma, stress, and illness, and is a healthy means of coping with hardship. 

As a practice, gratitude is not something that necessarily comes naturally but requires some intention and work to make it habitual.  By implementing a daily practice of focusing on what we are grateful for, we are more able to see the positive side of things, recognize in hard times that there is much working in our favor, and even come to see gifts that have come from negative experiences. In recovery, gratitude can be an extraordinary tool we can use as needed in any moment to help us reframe dismal thinking and as an ongoing practice to promote resilience and positivity in our lives. I hope you have found some inspiration here to add a little more gratitude to your day.

Beattie, M. (1990). The language of letting go. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Emmons, R. E., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY: IN SESSION,69(8), 846-855. doi:10.1002/jclp.22020

Elana Clark-Faler
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