Gratitude is a powerful emotion that affirms the positive aspects of our lives as well as the people, community and world around us. However, consciously instilling in yourself a habit of being grateful for life’s circumstances can be hard at first. Like any habit, it takes practice.
One way to start is by following the sage advice I received in the first alcohol support group I attended, which was to “Fake it till you make it.”
At that point in my life, I wasn’t feeling particularly grateful to the universe for what it had handed me. However, over time I began to learn that, by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of my life, I began to feel better about my circumstances, even though they hadn’t changed in any substantive way. I also learned that expressing gratitude in thought, word and deed began drawing people to me. Like the adage goes, “Honey catches more flies than vinegar.”
Since then, I’ve managed to sustain a sense of gratitude in my life by taking a few minutes each day to list the things I’m grateful for. You’d be surprised at how long that list can be. When you focus regularly on the gifts in your life, you’ll find that being happy, grateful and hopeful becomes easier.
Of course, the opposite of embracing gratitude is something called stinking thinking. That’s also a phrase I learned when I first got sober.
Stinking thinking manifests when your brain constantly ruminates on the worst possible outcomes of any issue or problem. It generates a constant barrage of negative self-talk such as “Everything in my life is all wrong, nothing I try to accomplish gets done, no one understands me, everything is hard, etc., etc.”
The problem with stinking thinking is that it triggers a continuous negative feedback loop that can incapacitate you. One single bad thought triggers a memory of having been let down by someone you love, which dredges up a lifetime’s worth of sediment about the wrongs you’ve experienced or perpetrated, and so on and so forth.
Years ago, I banished that negativity through daily recitation of the serenity prayer, a focus on helping others and by filling my life with as many positive people I could find. Keeping a list of friends, gifts and things I appreciate, and being around people who are part of my mutual support society has created a shield around me. Volunteering has shifted my focus away from self and onto helping others.
The truth is that each of us has the power to rewire our brains to fire their circuits for gratitude or negativity. It is a choice. When I choose being with others and reaching out to volunteer, I experience a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Going to the gym for a rigorous exercise exhausts me physically, while leaving me grateful for my body’s ability to exert itself.
Listening to music periodically lifts my spirits and helps me acknowledge life’s blessings and dwell on the goodness in my life. Even when I feel sad about those I’ve lost or who have passed from my life’s horizon, I find that even my tears are in appreciation for having had the opportunity of knowing them and being enriched by that.