Popular wisdom suggests that you can create gratitude out of thin air. That the only thing that you need to be grateful right now is the decision to change how you are looking at things.
To some extent I can believe this. For example, you can essentially force your brain to shift into gratitude by sitting down and writing out a list. Make a gratitude list. Nearly every sponsor in AA and NA has instructed their sponsee to do this at some point. Sit down and write out every single thing that you are grateful for. Oh and just to be sure that you are actively seeking for things that you are grateful for, make the list 50 items long.
What happens when the person sits down to write out these 50 things? They have to change their criteria. So instead of just being grateful for the one or two big things in their life that they consider to be “good,” they have to expand their definition so that they can come up with 50 things.
So it is in the framing of the mind, of what makes us grateful, that can shift our attitude. When we are in a good space, we are thankful for the earth under our feet and the air we are breathing. We feel like all of it, the entire universe, is a blessing.
The opposite of this is selfishness in my experience. If we are feeling selfish then we are not grateful for any of it, absolutely none of it. We completely lack gratitude because we are only focusing on what we lack, on what we are missing that we feel like we deserve in life. And so when we are stuck in this selfish mode we cannot see the good in life, we can only see what we are lacking, and this limits our ability to feel good and enjoy life.
Gratitude should be our opening prayer when we wake up in the morning, and it should also be the theme of our daily review at the end of the day. In other words, when we go to sleep at night, we should review our day and pick out the things that we are grateful for. If we remind ourselves of this kind of gratitude every day and make it into a habit then we will set the tone of our life differently.
I think that we can expand our ability to experience gratitude by taking certain actions. One of the things that can make us become more grateful is by working with others who are struggling to get clean and sober. Essentially doing 12 step work is the key to reaching out and helping others, which in turn will strengthen our own recovery a great deal. And if you are doing this sort of work then you will see both successes and failures as you are trying to help others. And believe it or not, even the failures can serve as a way to increase our gratitude, because it will remind us of where we came from and where we do not want to go back to.
I think one of the keys to developing more spirituality in your life is to get a mentor, a sponsor, or a therapist and to start taking advice and suggestions from that person. This can transform your life in a number of ways and you won’t be able to see the benefits until after the fact.
What does that mean? It means that no one really wants to get a mentor and then follow directions, blindly take advice, and ignore their own ideas in order to listen and obey the suggestions of someone else. Nobody actually wants to do that, nor do they get excited about living that way.
But here is the truth: If you do that, if you get a mentor such as a sponsor or a therapist, and you do everything that they tell you to do, then your life will transform slowly over time and eventually it will be amazing. And one day you will realize that a miracle has happened and you will weep with gratitude.
I know this because of two things: One, I experienced it for myself. Two, I have watched others in recovery go through this transformation for themselves and develop genuine gratitude as a result of it.
Now I know that I said that popular wisdom suggests that anyone can be grateful right now, regardless of their circumstances, just by making the decision to be grateful. And I suppose that probably works for some people.
But I was stubborn. I was, quite honestly, faking it until I made it in early recovery. I knew how to talk the gratitude talk in AA meetings, but was I really grateful at the time? Was I truly “fall down on your knees and kiss the ground grateful” for every single thing in the universe? Not really. Not yet anyway. I hadn’t had that magical moment yet, that spiritual awakening, that moment in which I realized that the obsession to drink and take drugs had been completely removed, and that I was no longer craving substances, that I was truly free.
I did not have that moment until about 6 months or so of sobriety. I had to keep showing up for recovery every single day, I had to keep taking suggestions from my sponsor and my therapist, and I had to keep doing the work. I had to quit smoking cigarettes and start jogging every day. I had to experiment with meditation and dig deep on my prayers. I had to start doing service work, just as my sponsor instructed me to do, and I had to start giving back to others in early recovery.
In short, I had to dive into the recovery process and really work the program to the fullest before I would one day experience such a powerful wave of gratitude that it would bring me to tears.
So I am sure that you can be grateful right now, even if you only have a single day of sobriety under your belt. And at one point I was very early in my own recovery and I was digging for whatever gratitude I could muster up, because all the cool kids were talking about gratitude and I wanted to fit in. But it wasn’t until I truly started doing the work, it wasn’t until I rolled up my sleeves and started working the 12 steps, it wasn’t until I started working with a therapist and actually taking their suggestions, that I was able to have this massive shift in my life that resulted in some serious gratitude.
Today I am grateful for all of it, and the miracle of recovery just keeps on expanding for me. Oh sure, I can forget how blessed I am and become self centered again in a heartbeat, but I would argue that I am also fairly quick to remember where I came from, precisely because I continue to work with newcomers, I continue to reach out to newcomers in recovery, and I continue to try to carry the message to suffering alcoholics and addicts. I try to stay grounded in a way that makes it so that I never forget where I came from.
The key to this kind of life is to start doing the work in recovery, to take those suggestions and advice from your mentors, and to keep doing the work, day in and day out. Consistency is required to build a life in which you fully experience gratitude. You must make positive habits in your recovery and avoid relapse at all costs. It is only through working an active program of personal growth that you can one day look back and realize just how far you have come, and be grateful for all of it, all over again.