The Connection Between Gratitude and Healing

Connecting with others – and especially with ourselves – through daily practices of gratitude helps to remind us that we are part of a greater human and spiritual whole. By focusing on what we have rather than on what we lack, gratitude opens our hearts to feelings of compassion, generosity and love; it points us to an understanding of and an appreciation for our unique lives with all their complicated challenges and abundant blessings.

Additionally, our health is positively affected with this newfound knowledge; regular work with tools such as a gratitude journal can actually coax our brain neurons into firing in more automatic, positive patterns. Mindful meditation practices can further enhance these benefits and open our hearts in expansive ways, which we might never have realized were possible.

For individuals in recovery, November is often referred to as “Gratitude Month.” In the 12-Step tradition as described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), putting into practice the spiritual awakening principles learned during one’s personal journey of recovery is the mission of each person participating in recovery. In AA, serving others is the true example of gratitude in action.

According to Harvard University’s website, positive psychology research has found that gratitude is also associated with greater happiness. Individuals can feel, express and apply gratitude in a number of ways across all stages of life – past, present and future. Gratitude helps people in a number of ways including:

  • Feeling more positive emotions
  • Relishing good experiences
  • Improving their health
  • Strengthening and building relationships
  • Dealing with adversity

Particularly in regards to physical health, two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have both done a great deal of research on gratitude. After ten weeks, their study subjects who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than those subjects who recorded daily irritations or wrote solely about neutral life events. The gratitude journal group also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians.

Cultivating gratitude on a regular basis takes practice. Here are some ideas:

  • Mentally thank someone who has made a difference in your life. If possible, take the next step and send them a note. If you can read it to them either in person or over the telephone, the benefit to both of you will be magnified.
  • Reflect weekly or daily on your blessings and write them down in a gratitude journal that you can later review as needed.
  • Meditate or pray in a way that supports your spiritual and religious beliefs with the goal to bring your focus more to the present moment as opposed to ruminating on the past or obsessing about the future.
  • Speak to yourself kindly several times a day.
  • Compliment your co-workers.
  • Tell your family members daily at least one special thing you appreciate about living with them.

Resources:

“In Praise of Gratitude,” Harvard Health Publications, November 2011

“The Seven Best Gratitude Quotes: Develop a gratitude practice to open your heart and rewire your brain,” Psychology Today, November 2011

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