28 Nov Gratitude in Recovery by Greg Binns, LMFT
Have you ever been encouraged by anyone to practice an “attitude of gratitude?” Have you ever been annoyed by that suggestion? Be honest, come on. Okay, so given that you’ve answered “yes,” let’s look at what the big deal is with gratitude in recovery.
Here’s a short list of reasons why practicing gratitude more often is supportive of your overall mental health:
- gratitude is a prosocial emotion
- gratitude feels good
- when you feel grateful, you’re not feeling a whole range of worse feelings
- when you feel grateful, you’re primed to feel a whole range of better feelings
- gratitude is a specific antidote to resentment
All of the above are good reasons to practice gratitude in general. The last one is why gratitude is so specifically supportive of recovery. Resentment is the feeling of bitter indignation that you have been treated unfairly. It’s a painful emotion, and the narrative of resentment is focused on what you don’t have, what you are owed. It continually brings the focus back to a deficit that is the fault of others and promotes the view that I can’t feel ok until someone else (who, as it turns out, I have no control over) gives me what I think I deserve. Resentment is also a mindstate that takes people out again and again and again.
If you reflect on what the state of gratitude or gratefulness is, it’s easy to see how it undercuts resentment. The narrative of gratitude focuses on appreciating what it is that I have. Notice that gratitude doesn’t ask whether I have enough, or whether I have all I want. It doesn’t focus on the lack; it focuses specifically on the fact that I do have some things that I’m better off for having and that are well worthy of my appreciation.
Another nice feature of gratitude is that, in relation to resentment, it represents a kind of stealth attack. The full frontal assault on resentment is more akin to forgiveness. Forgiveness is like a direct, head-on relinquishment of a resentment. And it can be hard work, kind of like chipping away at this big frozen monstrosity with an icepick. Gratitude is sort of like warming up the whole room. It doesn’t so much attack the resentment head on as warm up the whole room, make the total situation a little more pliable.
Gratitude is also eminently portable, requires little preparation, and makes for a large target. All you have to do is identify something you have that you’re better off for having, and then reflect on how your life is enhanced by having it rather than not having it. The “it” might be the simple fact that you’re in a warm room and it’s windy outside. It might be the fact that we’re in the golden age of television. It might be the belly laugh your friend gave you yesterday. It might be the person who picked the phone up when you really needed them to. It might be that all of your loves ones are safe at the moment in this dangerous world. There’s nothing too big or too small to be the focus of gratitude. Many folks make a daily practice at the beginning and/or end of the day to reflect on a few things they’re grateful for. That’s a great idea, and you can also come back to gratitude as often as you like. It’s utility is in the practice of it, so practice it as often as you like.
Until next time…