When I first got sober, I was filled with resentment and rage. I felt that I had been cheated out of having the life I thought I deserved. I deserved a better life. I deserved more money, better friends, a healthier body. I deserved a beautiful wife, a large house, fame and fortune.
How could I possibly be responsible for the condition of my life? The world, and everyone in it, was to blame—not me. It was never my fault; it was all someone else’s fault. Didn’t the world recognize my awesomeness?
I was blinded by resentment and unable to see the part I played in my own self-destruction. I felt entitled to something better than what I had.
So, the question is this: how do we begin to focus on gratitude when we don’t feel any gratitude and don’t know where to find it?
It’s very simple. Start with where you are right now!
Look around you. I guarantee that you will find something that you can appreciate. It can be anything. Perhaps it’s the fact that you have two hands and two feet that work (assuming you do); or maybe you have a roof over your head, or maybe you have something delicious in your kitchen that you can eat later, or there’s a good television show on tonight that you enjoy.
When I was new to sobriety, I used to keep a pint of Haagen Dasz coffee ice cream in my freezer at all times. My reward for staying sober each day was to eat the entire pint of ice cream at night while watching The Office, my favorite TV show at the time. Suffice it to say, I put on a few pounds that year.
Gaining a few pounds didn’t matter. I knew I could lose the weight later. What mattered was that I had two things that I looked forward to—ice cream and my favorite show. And I was grateful for those things when I prayed in the morning and at night. It seems silly, but it worked.
If you try hard enough, you will always be able to find at least one or two things to be grateful for—a favorite pet; a good meal; a soft pillow to sleep on; a song you love; a funny joke; a good cup of coffee. Or maybe you can find gratitude in being able to help another person who is also suffering.
My friend Sheryl was struggling through the early stages of recovery and trying to piece her life back together. She didn’t have any money at the time. Her personal life and health had been severely damaged by years of alcoholism and bad decisions. Like many of us who are new to sobriety, she often felt lonely and afraid. She was sad about the years she had lost to drinking and was struggling with a host or regrets and remorse. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, she started each morning with a prayer that focused on how she could help just one person that day feel better than she was feeling about herself.
So that’s what she did. Every day she would look for someone who seemed sad, distressed, angry, bored or frightened. And she would approach the person (whether she knew them or not) and simply ask them “is everything okay?” Sometimes it was a person in a 12 step meeting. Sometimes it was just a random stranger at a coffee shop. She was surprised by how many people were willing to confide in her about how they were feeling. And more times than not, just the simple effort she made to ask them “is everything okay” seemed to have a positive effect on their mood. She also made several new friends along the way.
What Sheryl was doing was practicing gratitude by recognizing that other people were suffering too, sometimes even more than she was, and that she could help them in some small way to feel just a little better. Over time it had a huge impact on her own sense of daily gratitude and helped her cultivate a much more positive and productive outlook on life.
You don’t necessarily have to go out in the street and ask strangers how they’re feeling like Sheryl did. You can start with the simple things in your life. Don’t focus on the negatives, only on a few things that make you smile or bring you comfort. Find the small things in life that you’re grateful for and expand your outlook from there over time.
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