The holidays can bring excitement, celebrations, and gatherings with loved ones you do not see on a regular occasion. However, it can also bring an insurmountable amount of stress, anxiety, and the need for perfectionism, which can trigger many to misuse alcohol and drugs. Being in recovery during the holiday season can be stressful for many reasons but learning to “lean into gratitude” during this time of year can help you appreciate your recovery journey. The holiday season can also bring unwanted and unexpected triggers and stress, no matter which stage of recovery you are in on your journey. Leaning into gratitude can not only help you stay focused strongly on your recovery during this time of year, but it can also help you appreciate the holiday season and the goodness that comes along with it.  

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Defining gratitude 

According to the Merriam-Webster-Merian dictionary, gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. Many of us think of gratitude as a way of saying “thank you” to someone who has helped us or given us a gift. However, gratitude is more than just saying “thanks” as an action; it is also a positive emotion and mindset that produces long-lasting positivity. Gratitude is a significant component of living in a healthy mentality, especially if you are in recovery.  


The stages of gratitude 

According to research, gratitude involves two stages: 

The first stage is recognizing and acknowledging the goodness in one’s life, even if it comprises the smallest of things; appreciation for a warm home or food on the table. When we practice gratitude, we say “yes” to life and our recovery. We affirm our positive thoughts and actions that make life worth living. We recognize that we have received something from the world or others that brings us joy when we acknowledge gratitude.   

The second state of gratitude recognizes that some of the sources for good things in life come from other factors besides yourself. At this stage, we recognize others in our lives, besides ourselves, and the sacrifices they made for us to be happy. This may include being grateful for our loved ones, to the world, and to other people who helped us along our journey.  


Why gratitude? 

Gratitude can allow us to form new social connections or strengthen our current relationships. We can use gratitude to apologize to others, make amends and help solve problems within ourselves and our relationships. Gratitude is a selfless act. It involves unconditional thoughts and actions towards another individual without expecting anything in return as a way to show them that they are appreciated. In other words, gratitude is “A gift that is freely given”. If someone is having a bad day, an example of gratitude is writing them a kind note of encouragement or sending them a kind text of appreciation. You are not asking for something in return from this person, but instead reminding them of their value and expressing gratitude for their existence.  

Even when we do not expect a return from that person, we are still putting good out in the world, and often good things will come to us when we least expect it. Maybe a stranger will do something nice for us when we have a hard day, and perhaps a friend will show up when we least expect it. Gratitude can be contagious in a good way. 

Gratitude also has a way of making us intrinsically feel good, as it is a rewarding process. Being grateful for being alive and being in recovery is a great way to motivate yourself to take on the day.  The thought that tomorrow is not guaranteed is a strong motivator for some people to be their “best self” today. 


Gratitude in recovery 

You most likely learned about gratitude while in treatment. Your therapist may have mentioned how selfishness and addiction usually coincide, and gratitude can be a healthy coping skill to overcome the negative triggers associated with addiction. So often, when we are in the throes of our addiction, we adopt the mindset of “me against the world”, thinking that the world and everything in it are out to get us. Gratitude helps us counteract this mindset by appreciating where we are in our journey each day—expressing gratitude in recovery can allow us to take control of our thoughts and actions. Although we may not control the world, we can control how we react to the world. Gratitude allows us to adopt this mindset. Practicing gratitude in recovery has increased happiness, improved clear thinking patterns, enabled individuals to take on more significant challenges, and adopted more self-control. 


How to practice gratitude during the holidays 

Holiday shopping, parties, decorations, and family gatherings may seem overwhelming, but taking the time to be thankful that you are around to experience another holiday season can put all the hustle and bustle into perspective. You have another chance at life; think about that for a second. Not only are you in recovery, but also you were allowed you have the opportunity to spend time with family, reconcile, and listen to yet another season of Christmas music. Not everyone has this chance. You do not have to spend a lot of money on gifts to express gratitude during the holidays. Below are some simple ways to express gratitude towards others and towards yourself during this holiday season: 

  • Write and send hand-written holiday cards. 
  • Bake a dessert. 
  • Invite someone over for a meal. 
  • Teach someone a skill you may have, such as cooking your favorite dish or fixing something around the house. 
  • Offer to take holiday family photographs. 
  • Help someone with their Christmas tree. 
  • Write down the things you are grateful for each day. 
  • Think of how far you have come during your recovery journey. 
  • Volunteer your time at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. 
  • Help someone with their grocery or holiday shopping. 
  • Offer to wrap gifts for a friend or family member. 
  • Focus on the people and things you have in your life rather than what you do not have. 
  • Offer to babysit or pet sit. Offer to pick up the groceries for someone. 


From all of us at AKUA Mind and Body, we wish you and your loved ones a happy, grateful, healthy, and safe holiday season.  

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