A Blog from Castle Craig Hospital

“Gratitude - It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” - Melody Beattie, author of ‘The Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps’

What are you grateful for? Although it’s a simple question, there are many people who find it difficult to answer. For those in addiction recovery, the challenges they face can make it even more so. Gratitude, however, is a very important tool for achieving emotional sobriety, which is essential for a lasting recovery.

Gratitude can be defined in many ways. Simply put, the Oxford dictionary describes it as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. It is an emotion which a person feels when they acknowledge that which is meaningful and valuable to them.

Being grateful not only promotes positive emotions but also helps dilute negative ones. For this reason, understanding gratitude is crucial, as it can be used to improve one’s happiness and mental well-being.

The Benefits of Gratitude

The benefits of gratitude have been shown throughout many studies. In one experiment, two psychologists had one group of people write down their blessings while having another group write down their complaints and irritations. Not surprisingly, the group that focused on the positives felt far more optimistic at the end of the study.

Another experiment had participants write a letter of thanks to various people in their lives. The results from this study were impressive, as it showed that expressing gratitude gave people a huge and long-lasting boost of happiness. Their overall mood was elevated for about a month.

Similarly, a third study saw that employees who were praised or acknowledged for their hard work showed not only an increase in happiness but also motivation to work harder.

The Role of Gratitude in Recovery

Someone that’s struggled with addiction, or any mental illness, might not feel that there’s much to be grateful for. Instead, it is easier to see only the negative things. They may also feel fear, anxiety, anger, or hate – all deterrents to happiness.

This is true even during recovery, when there are new challenges one has to overcome. Therefore, to strengthen one’s recovery, it is necessary to remove these sour thoughts. That is where gratitude comes in.

By no means is gratitude a complete solution to achieving lifelong sobriety, but it is essential for true and lasting happiness. Gratitude helps a person see the good things in life, even when overwhelmed with the bad. This positive mindset gives them power – the strength that can help them get better even despite them being “powerless” over their addiction.

It is therefore not surprising that many therapeutic techniques and rehabs teach the value of gratitude. Many 12-step programmes emphasise its importance in the 12th and final step.

Gratitude Makes Happiness Go Around

Showing gratitude is just as important as knowing what to be grateful for. When you show thanks for the things that make your life better, you get a self-esteem boost in return. For example, you might have already noticed that you feel happier when you give a gift than when you receive one.

As humans, we are born a social species with an inner desire to please others. This is because we want to be liked. We feel happy when we make others happy. Hence, it’s important to express your gratitude.

Expressing gratitude also makes people have a better impression of you, which also aids in strengthening your relationships and support network. Support, as you may already know, is crucial for recovery.

Try it Yourself!

As a simple experiment, try it yourself. Pay a genuine compliment to someone near you, at home, at work or in your daily routine. Most likely they will smile back or say thank you. Then pay attention to how that makes you feel in return.

Teach Yourself to be Grateful

It may take time to fully grasp the concept of gratitude, but it is worth it. Even if one is not in recovery, it can boost their overall happiness. In addition to therapy, there are self-help methods that one can practice to become more grateful every day.

Take Time to Think

Get a paper and pen and start listing all the things you are grateful for. You can think broadly, such as you are still alive and healthy. You can think small, such as it’s sunny today. You can think practical, such as you have enough money to buy lunch today – even if it’s only today.

You might find it hard at first, especially if you’re in a bad place, but after a while, you’ll be surprised at how many things you have to be grateful for. It can also help to start a daily journal where you list at least one or a few things you can be thankful for. Over time, this will help train your mind to focus on the positives.

Know the Source

It is also important to recognise who is responsible for the good things in your life. This can even be a higher power or a loved one who has passed away. As a complementary exercise, in addition to writing down what you’re grateful for, try to think who you can thank for your happiness.

Spread the Joy

After you identify what you have to be grateful for and who to be grateful to, make sure to express your thanks to them. Do this in your head, at least, if you can’t do it in person. You’ll notice that this will give you a boost of self-esteem. It will also make their day.

Think of it as “paying it forward”. By showing or doing small acts of kindness, we show appreciation for our blessings and give others something to be grateful for in return.

Thoughts from the Therapy Team at Castle Craig and Smarmore Castle Clinic

Gratitude is a great quality and asset of recovery. Fostering gratitude for one’s recovery is a great anecdote against negativity, especially resentment and self-pity.

Gratitude is part of a daily process of introspection and helps in nurturing happiness and contentment. When one thinks of gratitude, one reflects on the joy of life, something almost lost to the power of addiction. Gratitude is a state of being that can also be used and developed to help others. - Mark Abrami, Lead Therapist, Castle Craig

I remember being told as a patient in treatment that it is impossible to be grateful and resentful at the same time. I saw that as a challenge and, determined to prove to my therapist that I knew more than she did, set out to disprove her theory. The result, of course, was that I discovered what she offered was a truth and not a theory. I am grateful for that lesson, grateful for her wisdom and grateful I now have the choice to practice this on a daily basis – the first step towards inner peace. - Jim Ferguson, Specialist Therapist, Castle Craig

I believe gratitude is an important quality for happiness, contentment and a healthy emotional view of self. I have an attitude of gratitude. - Roseanne Boyle, Lead Therapist, Castle Craig Extended Treatment

Evidence has shown that positive emotions such as Gratitude play a role in motivating individuals to change. At Smarmore Castle we encourage daily focus on gratitude. We see a direct correlation between a patient’s level of, and focus on gratitude, and their willingness to engage in the programme and take risks to let go of old negative behaviours. - Mary Curtis, Clinic Manager, Smarmore Castle Private Clinic, Ireland