Gratitude

Love of life. I have talked abut self-love, and now I want to talk about something similar, related, and probably even more important: love of life. I have been to so many NA and AA meetings, and it’s one of the most popular topics of discussion that people bring up because most of us, especially when we’re first getting sober, are focused on the negative aspects of sobriety, and what we want, and what we think we need. 

The benefits: If you are consistently practicing gratitude in your life, whether it’s in a daily meditation exercise, in a journal, or during little pauses throughout the day, you’re going to be happier, healthier, more appreciative, more mindful, more resilient, have better self-esteem, sleep better, and be more compassionate and kind. The list goes on and on from there, but you get the point. This will become an upward spiral: you’re kinder and happier, sleeping and feeling better, so now you’re having better relationships and doing more quality work, and now your quality of life increases, and now you have more to be grateful for, and so on. 

Changing your mindset. Practicing gratitude will feel like work at first. If you’re journaling, maybe you’ll be consistent for a few days and then fall off the wagon, but if you’re patient and persistent, it will stop being work and eventually become a habit, one of the good ones. Gradually, you’ll stop focusing on the negatives and wallowing in self-pity, and start focusing on the positives and seeing opportunities that you had never noticed before. Instead of noticing the rain, you’ll notice the flowers blooming because they just got watered. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true and it works. 

The Grapes of Wrath: Steinbeck is one of my favorites. His writing is simple and direct, and he never has to interrupt the story to explain what he’s trying to say; instead, the character and the story do it for him. One of my favorite scenes in The Grapes of Wrath is when Tom Joad and his brother Al go to a junkyard to find a part to fix a car and continue on their journey to California. The attendant at the junkyard is this monstrous guy; he’s dirty; he stinks; he literally blows his nose in his hand and wipes it on his shirt, and, of course, he’s missing one eye. He doesn’t wear an eye patch, and you can see the muscles twitching and squirming when he looks around. It’s a vivid picture. The guy complains to Al and Tom about how terrible his life is and how his eye has ruined everything for him. Tom interrupts him after a few minutes and really lays into him, telling him that it’s not his eye that’s ruining his life, but his self-pity and negativity; that women don’t like him because he’s disgusting, and that he needs to take a bath, wash his clothes, get an eye patch, and stop feeling so damn sorry for himself. The guy is pretty shocked, and asks Tom if he really believes his life would be better if he just changed his attitude. Tom tells him about a hooker he knew that had one leg. You would expect her to be cheap, but she actually charged double what the normal girls charged because she advertised herself as unique and special, not deformed. The men happily payed for the unique experience.

Some ways to practice gratitude:

Journal: Find a time when you can sit down everyday, or every other day, and journal about the things you are grateful for. 

Who are the people you love the most and why? Did anyone do or say something nice or friendly to you today? What are the modern conveniences you take for granted? Do you have enough to eat? A roof over your head? Clean clothes to wear? Are you free from suffering, disease, war, or poverty? Did you get to see, taste, smell, or hear something pleasant today? What are the things you appreciate about yourself? (This one is usually the hardest, but try to write down at least 3-5).

Meditate: Instead of writing, just find a time when you can sit or lay down in a relaxed position, close your eyes, and think about what you’re grateful for for a few minutes. 

Throughout the day: Try to train your brain. Throughout the day, focus and take mental notes about all the things you’re grateful for. Instead of thinking, ‘wow, that guy’s car is way nicer than mine,’ think, ‘I’m grateful I have a car (because a lot of people don’t).’

Gratitude letter: Write letters to people, animals, God, nature, the universe, or whatever else has brought you happiness. You don’t even have to send the letters. Write about a specific moment where they did something kind for you, or just let them know how special they are to you. 

Gratitude jar: This is similar to the ‘throughout the day’ method, but instead of just thinking about your moments of gratitude, write them down on paper, put them in a jar, and look back at them in a few weeks or months.

Positive mantras/affirmations: Again, this might sound corny, but create some mantras for yourself and repeat them throughout the day. ‘It’s great to be alive.’ ‘I can do anything I set my mind to.’ ‘I am in charge (of my life or how I react to situations).’ ‘I am grateful.’ ‘I am happy.’ ‘I am enough.’ 

Gratitude walk: Go on a walk, or a drive, and notice all the things you see, smell, hear, or feel that make you happy or strike you as beautiful.  

Do with a partner: All of these gratitude exercises are great to do alone, but if you have a partner who is willing to share their gratitude with you, and listen to yours, that’s even better. 

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