As a recovering alcoholic, practicing gratitude is a key part of my daily life. It has to be — otherwise, I start to slowly slip back into a self-centered, self-pitying, reckless way of thinking that, if left unchecked, will most likely lead me back to the easy-out comfort of my former best friend, the vodka bottle.
I use the word “practice” because for me, being grateful is not easy. Sure, on some days, when everything’s going my way, it’s a cinch. But on the more difficult ones, it takes effort. And on some days, I totally know I’m phoning it in.
But here’s the thing — even just an ounce of effort is better than none at all. Because since I got sober and started incorporating these daily “thank you” routines into my life, my once non-existent self-esteem has started to soar. It’s actually quite amazing. I’m feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, and I think that’s because I’m actually learning how to reach outside of it, and see the bigger picture of life.
I’m not saying that every day is a party — far from it. But I’ve found a balanced way of thinking, one I never knew existed, that helps get me through challenges and disappointments without wanting to mope or sulk or take a nice, stiff shot.
The following are things I do every day to keep myself, as best I can, in this spiritually fit mindset. You certainly don’t need to be an alcoholic to adopt these daily gratitude practices into your life. Anyone can benefit from adding extra love into their lives — especially for themselves.
1. I READ: Morning Affirmations
Every morning, while I drink my cup of coffee, I read from a daily affirmation book. There are a millions of them out there — some are specifically for alcoholics, and others that anyone can find meaning in, like my favorite, Forgiving and Moving On. It’s a great way to remind yourself just how cool life can be, or to learn something new, or to just think, for five minutes, about something other than the day you have looming ahead of you.
2. I WRITE: On my Buddha Board
It looks like a dry-erase board, but it’s actually a small canvas that you paint on using water from a little well underneath. The message you make is never permanent — it slowly fades away as it evaporate into the air, reminding us that nothing in life lasts forever. I like to use mine to write special messages to my Higher Power (it’s the closest I’ve gotten to prayer, at this point) or notes to loved ones who have passed away.
3. I WRITE: In my Gratitude Journal
I used to write in a real one, complete with paper and pen. But I got lazy and stopped. The exercise is simple — you just write a list of at least five things you are grateful for everyday. It can be anything, from the profound to the perfunctory (I often throw a beauty product in there, for example). But then I found this app, which reminds you to fill in what you’re thankful for, and when you’re done, offers you an inspiring (and often funny) quote, along with the cutest little meditating character I’ve ever seen. Now I’m back to doing this daily, via my phone.
4. I SAY: The Serenity Prayer
Although this saying is now mostly known as one of AAs popular meeting prayers, it was actually first penned by an American theologian name Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s so wise, so simple (yet so hard to do), and so. . . . right on. I can’t tell you how many times I repeat this saying to myself on a daily basis, and if I am able to practice just one of these three things a day, I know my head is in good, safe place.
5. I SING: Silly songs about the things I’m grateful for
I’ve done no research on this, but I’d believe it if they said singing around the house in the a.m. releases endorphins or dopamine or some other happy hormone.
Last week, my morning jam was Lovely Day by Bill Withers — the point of which was to emphasize how much I appreciate my husband. I’d cue it up on my phone, and right as he was leaving for work, I’d start singing over the music:
“When I wake up in the morning, love
And the sunlight hurts my eyes
And something without warning, love
Bears heavy on my mind
Then I look at you
And the world’s alright with me
Just one look at you
And I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day
… lovely day, lovely day, lovely day …”
I think he’s about ready for me to give it a rest, but the song just says everything I’ve been feeling about him — and about life — so I’m still at it. But I think it’s time to move on to something else. Suggestions?
It took eight years of struggling to get sober for me to truly understand what the word gratitude means. That it’s more than a just feeling — it’s something you have to take an active role in to achieve, it’s a practice, the results of which are oh-so-satisfying. Now I finally get it, and for that, I am truly grateful.