Episode 6 - The Power of Gratitude
The Power of Gratitude
You may be struck that the topic of this audio journal is gratitude, especially in the midst of the opioid crisis, the deaths of 70,000 people each year from overdose and the ravages of an addiction pandemic. After the loss of my daughter Laura to overdose 2 years ago gratitude has been the one thing that has helped me through what could have been an unbearable loss. I am grateful for the time I had with her, for the lessons her disease taught me, for having the insight to use my knowledge of technology to create a new company to take on the opioid crisis and for my friends who have reached out, stayed in touch and have been supportive.
I belong to Facebook groups focused on addiction and the loss of loved ones to the disease and one overarching theme is that grief has sucked people into the deepest and darkest of holes that they cannot seem to crawl out of. Not only have they lost a loved one, but they’ve lost marriages, friends, jobs, and most tragically themselves.
If you are struggling with addiction yourself, trying to create a recovery plan, attempting to help a family member who is trying to get clean and sober, or trying to cope with the loss of someone you loved from overdose, here are some reasons to consider a shift in focus to appreciate what you still have vs. what you have lost, Here is how gratitude is helpful.
Being grateful makes you a happier person. Research reveals that if you just spend 5 minutes a day writing down what you are grateful your feeling of long-term happiness will go up and sustain itself over time.
Gratitude reduces your feelings of jealousy. When my daughter starting using drugs at age 14 and spent most of her teenage and young adult years in and out of treatment, I found myself feeling jealous when I watched my friends shop for their daughters’ prom dresses, teaching them to drive or contemplating where they were going to college. However, I was blessed in having several young ladies in my life without their mothers that allowed me to do those things that I couldn’t do with Laura. My gratitude at having those opportunities and experiences did wonders in making those jealous moment disappear.
Gratitude makes us less self-centered. When we face challenges, it’s natural to focus on how bad we feel and how those challenges affect us. Being grateful by its very definition causes us to start thinking about others which can be very healing. For me, I tell Laura’s story repeatedly in an effort to offer insight and help to other struggling families making me grateful that I had the opportunity to help.
Gratitude helps you exert and regain more control over your life. Addiction is a disease by its very nature that causes one to lose control over choices. If you have an addicted family member, you understand how little control you have over getting them to stop using and stop taking risks. Studies have found that gratitude increases people’s self-control, and it increases their ability to wait. According to the researchers, gratitude is like a self-control buffer helping you be ready to resist temptation and do the right thing.
An attitude of gratitude promotes health. Dealing with addiction takes a toll on your health Research shows that grateful people are generally healthier, so it’s good to get all the help we can.
So, knowing that gratitude makes you happier and healthier and has a range of other benefits, how in the face of overwhelming challenges can we start to develop gratitude in our lives? The secret is to start small, and over time, gratitude becomes part of who you are.
Start by focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. When you struggle with addiction yourself, have a family member that is struggling or experience the grief over the changes in your life or the loss of a loved one, it’s easy to focus on what you have lost. Practicing gratitude is all about being thankful for what you have versus focusing on all the things that you don’t have, which makes you feel negative, jealous and angry.
Honor the progress you or others around you have made. Recovery is a series of small victories that combine into lasting change. Don’t beat yourself or others up when there are setbacks, rather be grateful for the steps forward.
Appreciate the small things. We are surrounded by a host of small things that improve our lives, give us pleasure, or make us smile. Take time to think about how good your first cup of coffee tasted, how pretty your rose bush is, the cardinal that landed on your window or just the feeling of sunshine on your face. Sometimes it helps to write things down in a gratitude journal so you can look back and remember things that made you smile.
Make it a goal to give to others daily. Teaching someone how to solve a hard math problem helps you be better at math. Being generous with your time by extending yourself to others is a big part of practicing gratitude. There are plenty of ways to give back in small ways. Pay for the Starbucks coffee for the person behind you. Help someone bring their groceries in. Lend an ear to someone else struggling. Over time those small acts of kindness add up and increase your sense of well-being.
Learn how to meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Some people practice mindfulness by focusing on a word or a phrase, but it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, a favorite food).
I lost my daughter Laura just before Christmas, so coming into the holiday season could be a time of regret, loss, and sadness. Although I have those feelings, I also take this time to reflect on what I still have, be grateful for those gifts and recommit to be of service to others who struggle with their at-risk teenager who they just caught with pills, their spouse who is on their 3rd treatment program and how they are going to pay for it, the student trying to manage their recovery in college....and the list goes on.
Gratitude has helped me acknowledge the goodness in my life, the ways I can continue to make an impact through InterAct LifeLine, and the strength I’ve been given to turn grief into purpose.