By Guest Writer Kate Adermann,
What I learned about gratitude
When I first got sober I would constantly hear people talking about gratitude. While this seemed cliche, I was desperate to do whatever it took to get sober and stay sober. I started making a daily gratitude list each night.
My list initially consisted of material things, like having a roof over my head, having a job, and other tangible things. As I started to truly appreciate the beauty of a sober life, the things on my list began to change. They ranged anywhere from specific people, to the weather that day, or to the smile a stranger gave me at the bus stop.
The first thing I learned about keeping a gratitude list was that the more I became grateful for the intangible things in life, the happier I was. I was able to appreciate the world around me for exactly what it was without added criticism or judgement. The second thing I learned about gratitude is that it is impossible to be grateful and resentful at the same time. Before I got sober, resentment flooded my life. I blamed anyone and everyone for the bad things in my life without taking the time to look at my own behaviors.
One night I was resentful at a specific person because they did something that I didn’t like. I was obsessing over the fact that they were wrong and I was right – until I sat down to make my gratitude list that night. To my surprise, the very person I was resentful towards had made it on my gratitude list the night before. I was reminded of how that person had previously helped me and how they were an important, special part of my life. Right away, that resentment was gone. How could I possibly stay mad at someone who was contributing to my life in a positive way, whether I always agreed with them or not?
The benefits of gratitude
While addiction and other life events can have detrimental effects on mental health, studies have proven that gratitude can actually benefit mental health and overall well-being. This study suggests that people who consciously count their blessings and experience gratitude are happier than those who do not.
Several weeks into consciously focusing on gratitude, I noticed that I was not only happier, but I was treating the people around me better. When I am depressed or angry, I’m not a nice person. I have hurt enough people in the past while in active addiction and I don’t want to be that person anymore. Spending a few minutes each night focusing on positive aspects of my life has opened my mind to be able to appreciate the little things in life.
If a random stranger smiling at me at the bus stop made me feel good and made it on my gratitude list one day, maybe a smile that I give another person will do the same for them. Counting my blessings encourages me to spread happiness and love wherever I go.
The power of gratitude
The power of gratitude can transform difficult situations into opportunities for growth and change. Everybody faces unique challenges in their lifetime, whether it is getting denied for a job, going through a divorce, or grieving the death of a loved one, being able to channel gratitude through each and every situation can allow us to heal faster and love deeply.
A grateful person who gets denied for a job can be grateful for the experience. They may be given an opportunity to learn about the things they can do better in order to get a different, better job. A grateful person who is going through a divorce will be able to find peace in their struggles and be grateful for the good times they had with their former spouse. A grateful person who is grieving the death of a loved one will remember the love and beauty that their loved one brought into their life. They will be grateful for the time they had with them and for the everlasting impacts this person has left behind.
An important part of gratitude is thinking of others. Being immensely grateful for my sobriety, I try to reach out to newly sober addicts and take them under my wing. I do what I can to help them because I am grateful for those who helped me.
What the world could be like
When we treat others with love and kindness, we are extending our appreciation of that person to them. We are compassionate towards others to show them that we care about them and that we are thankful to have that person in our lives. A truly grateful person is a kind person. Imagine if the whole world behaved in this way. Another aspect of gratitude is humility. I have food to eat and hot water, while others do not. If I am grateful for my food and can afford to do so, I can buy a meal for the homeless family living down the street. I am no better than this family because when I was in active addiction, I was the homeless girl down the street. I will never forget the few people who extended their gratitude to my be buying me a meal to eat.
Having humility suggests that all are created equal and that each person stands on common ground. Each of our lives began with our first breath and will end with our last. Acknowledging that one person is no better than the next, we are given the opportunity to find common ground and agree when we would normally disagree. Arguments and inequality could come to an end. Imagine if the whole world lived this way.
Though these examples may seem minor, the power of gratitude is great. It all begins with one person spreading gratitude to the next. After all, all the great things we have today started with one or two people. Today we have international flights during all hours of the day, which we may not have had had the Wright brothers not taken the first powered airplane flight. Had Edward Jenner not developed the first smallpox vaccine, the various vaccines that were developed in the future may not have had the influence or effect needed to be successful.
Passing gratitude from one person to the next has the ability to affect vast amounts of people of all ages, cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. With gratitude comes the power of change. The world can change if everyone practiced gratitude every day. Through gratitude, humans can become happier as their outlook on life changes for the better. We can put down our smartphones and appreciate the person sitting across from us at the dinner table. We can create equal laws to allow all humans the right to live and have access to medications and healthcare. We can solve political unrest. If each person practiced gratitude wholeheartedly each day, the sun could rise on a world united by peace and love rather than be torn apart by turmoil and dismay.
Kate is an aspiring writer from Memphis. She enjoys hiking with her dog, Jake, spending time outdoors, and blogging about addiction and recovery.