By Catherine J. Collins, Co-Host of Airing Addiction and Business Development Liaison at The New England Recovery Center
I happen to be one of those people who lives in gratitude most of the time. Now, before you scroll through this and stop reading, because you just cannot stand shiny, happy, grateful people, please read how I learned to live in gratitude.
My first experience with this saying, “fake it until you make it” came at a 12-step recovery meeting. This sounded corny enough: I will fake being happy when I am currently miserable, I’ll put on a fake smile and say, “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Under the fake smile was a sour attitude longing for a drink. Over the course of my 20-year sobriety journey, I’ve learned to become truly grateful for even the most mundane things in life. Here are four tips that help me stay grateful during the holidays:
- Throw yourself a pity party.
That’s right, talk to yourself. Say, “You poor thing. You are feeling sorry for yourself, you have over 20 years sober, you have a husband who loves you, and you are upset because someone hurt your feelings.” It’s okay, let yourself feel those thoughts, but just for a little bit. It is okay to have feelings, whether they’re hurt feelings, happy feelings, etc., but you must move on. Whatever it is, good or bad, say: “This too shall pass.” Life is about balance. While I would love to be happy all the time, that is just not realistic – and it is okay to have those thoughts and feelings.
- Remind yourself that things could be worse.
I live in the “it could always be worse” mentality. If you can’t find gratitude, try saying to yourself: “Well, I’m not in jail, I don’t have cancer, and no one I love is dying today” or “I’m driving to see my sick mother, but it could be way worse, she AND my dad could be sick. My parents could both be paupers with no children who love them.” Usually, if we are not feeling grateful, this is an easier tool than making a list. It is also fun and requires a sense of humor. Even a sense of humor is something to be grateful for, and if you have it, use it!
- Write a list of what you’re grateful for.
Every day, I write a gratitude list, where I always find something to be grateful for – people, food, air, good health, pets, arms and legs, eyes, ears, you get the point! Most people can find at least three things to be grateful for. When working with others who are having difficulty with gratitude, I ask for at least 10 things for which they are grateful. If someone is really struggling to find gratitude, I ask for 25 things. I’m certainly a tough sponsor!
- Ask yourself the age-old question: “How important is it?”
I often feel this way around the holidays. If I feel the need to buy people presents that I cannot afford, I can always allow myself to write a nice card, make bread, or create something simple but meaningful. I can show love and appreciation without needing to spend money. How important is it that I show up with a gift? Is it more important that I attend, share my sense of humor or kindness? Can I just be grateful that I was invited? Can I be grateful that I have friends who want me to be with them, albeit in a mask, outside in the cold, over a stack of s’mores ingredients? Yes, I can be grateful for all of that, and the fact that I have a coat to wear and an old one to donate to the homeless.
Another small holiday tip: don’t compare what you give to what you get. When we start comparing our giving to someone else’s, it is so easy to lose perspective on what matters. Be a gracious recipient of gifts, someone thought of you and wanted to gift you. That alone is something to feel grateful about.
The bottom line with all these tips, is getting outside the negative headspace of not being grateful. There are tools to help you, experience has proven them. What tools do you use to overcome negativity and get to the side of gratitude?
Catherine Collins is a business development liaison at the New England Recovery Center, and co-host of our podcast, Airing Addiction. For more information about addiction recovery, visit www.NewEnglandRecoveryCenter.org.