Practicing Gratitude in Recovery

A New Take on Life | Attitude of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving this month, I wanted to focus on what it means to be grateful, to have an “attitude of gratitude”, and how that can help us in our recovery- whether from drugs, alcohol, or from mental health issues. Being grateful for where you are in this very moment means stopping right where you are and saying thank you; it means recognizing the good things in your life instead of focusing on the negative.

So…before you go any further, I want you to stop right now and say, “I am grateful for _________” (fill in the blank) and don’t worry if there is someone else in the room next to you, you can say it quietly in your head.

Close up image of woman's hands holding pencil and writing in a notebook- one word writen: "grateful". All around notebook are candles, pumpkins, and fall gourdes. Words on yellow box "Practicing gratitude in recovery"

Why Gratitude

An attitude of gratitude means making a conscious habit of expressing appreciation on a regular basis for big and small things: the smallest of things, like a Band-Aid when you get a papercut, and the big things, like when you did not know how you were going to pay that bill and a check you were not expecting came at the right time. This attitude helps us to feel more fulfilled and joyful each day. It is a regular habit to concentrate on what you have; it centers and grounds you to have faith that more will come tomorrow. Practicing an attitude of gratitude allows you to say, “I get to” instead of “I have to.”

Scientists conducted a study in 2008 to measure the brain activity of people thinking and feeling gratitude. They found that “gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. Gratitude can boost the neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine. Dopamine is our brain’s pleasure chemical.

The more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel. Life on earth can be tragic or joyful, depending on your view of the world either through the lens of pessimism or optimism. No matter what kind of life you are living right now, or what set up lenses you’re looking through, one thing is for sure: life isn’t always about having everything, but it is about being grateful for the things you have yet to achieve, making sure you look forward to each day that comes.

Being grateful can motivate someone to take the actions they need to take to change their life. Gratitude brings a healthy outlook and helps us realize life’s difficulties can be faced with dignity, and it is a fundamental element in recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Gratitude increases our desire to be helpful, generous, and compassionate. It increases feelings of forgiveness, and interest in being outgoing, and it reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How to have an Attitude of Gratitude

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on the topic of gratitude, there are three stages of gratitude.

1) Recognizing what we are grateful for

2) Acknowledging it

3) Appreciating it. In other words, appreciation is the final component and the last stage in the gratitude process.

Notice good things, look for them, appreciate them. Savor, absorb, and really pay attention to those good things. Express your gratitude to yourself, write it down, or thank someone. Reprogramming the brain for a more positive attitude takes practice.

Ways that you can begin to rewire your brain to be thankful include:

  • Write daily in a gratitude journal.
  • Listen to daily positive affirmations.
  • Practice Meditation and Mindfulness.
  • Surround yourself with people who practice gratitude.
  • Give gratitude to others.
  • Take ownership of your present by giving thanks for what you have and where you are in your life right now.
  • Commit to a gratitude practice and be intentional with your insights.

An attitude of gratitude is a choice, it takes a bit of work too, but it’s never too late to start- so start right now!

November Book Recommendation

Book cover for Bib le Meditation & Mindfulness. Blue cover with lit up bare bulb lightbulb. Book by Virginia Lefler

Bible Meditation & Mindfulness
by Virginia Lefler

Would it surprise you to learn that the Bible teaches and encourages Christians to meditate? Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God’s word calls us to meditate, contemplate and reflect. The purpose of meditation is to draw closer to God, to fall more in love with him and to see spiritual truths that can help you win your spiritual battles.

Discover 6 simple steps found in the Bible that can lead you in meaningful meditations. These steps are like looking at a beautiful gemstone from different angles. With each step, you have an opportunity to see something new and beautiful and to connect more deeply with God.

A companion journal is also available that includes sixty suggested meditations. Visit for resources, including facilitator’s guides for small groups.

Jessica Pottorff, MS, MA, T-LMHC, CADC

Woman with red hair wearing black dress with white polka-dots. She is wearing red glasses with white polka dots and leaning up against a brick wall smiling.

Jessica holds a Master of Arts degree in Christian Counseling of Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders as well as a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is also a certified alcohol and drug counselor. Jessica is currently accepting new patients; please use the contact form if you would like to schedule a session with her.

Jessica is passionate about working through codependency issues, guilt and shame, and spiritual issues and allows God and Scripture to empower clients to see their potential and to find their identity in Christ. Jessica is authentic and builds rapport quickly with her clients by being personable, compassionate, and Christ-centered. She has a passion to help people develop a deeper relationship with God as they pursue wholeness in all areas of their lives.