The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said that our lives are what our thoughts make them. In other words, by simply changing the way we think and our focus, we can change our lives. Bearing this in mind, choosing gratitude can have a huge impact on your life.
As practicing alcoholics and addicts, chances are, we were focusing on all the misery in our lives—the things that life had inflicted on us, and the things that we had inflicted on ourselves. But now that we are sober, we have to change our thinking patterns if we want to change our drinking or drugging patterns.
When I first came into recovery more than 30 years ago, in the Al-Anon fellowship, my sponsor told me to buy a notebook and write down 10 things I was grateful for, and then add three things to that list every day. I stopped numbering my list when I got to 5,000 items.
Why did I write a gratitude list? Because I didn't want to be miserable, and if being grateful was the solution, then that's what I would do. And importantly, a grateful heart doesn't drink. I learned very quickly that the struggle stops when gratitude begins.
Now that you're working the program, in any fellowship, the secret word remains "gratitude." Definitely go out and get that notebook, and add three items every day.
In addition, consider what master motivator Tony Robbins says about our brains—that they are "question-answering machines." In other words, whatever question you pose to your brain, it will think and think until it comes up with an appropriate answer.
Take for example, if we ask, "Why is my life so horrible?" Our brains will go to a quick, not always the best answer: "Because I'm a (fill in the blank)!" That could be pretty self-defeating depending on what your "blank" is.
That's why it's important to ask yourself better questions.
So here are three than can make a huge difference in your early recovery and in the day-to-day level of happiness you experience.
We tend to live in the past or the future, either reliving past disasters or awaiting more bad things to happen. The program tells us that if we have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, we are making a you-know-what of the present. And besides, the reason we call it the present… is because it's a gift!
So what's great about your life right now?
Hey, I'm doing all the work for you!
So you tell me…what's great about your life right now?
Our co-founder Dr. Bob, in his last speech to an AA gathering, reminded us that our philosophy of life as sober people is to be of love and service, "We all know what love means, and we all know what service means," Bob told us.
My sponsor had a quote from a Roman philosopher on the back of his AA business card—"God divided man into men that they might help each other."
(Ignore the gender-specificity of the ancient Romans. What did they know about inclusiveness?) The real issue is this: How can you serve today?
Can you set up chairs in a meeting? Can you visit a sick friend or relative? Can you call a newcomer? By serving others, we remind ourselves what true love means.
It's amazing how quickly we take recovery for granted. But ask yourself what your life would be like right now, right at this very minute, if you weren't working your program. Would you be living in a nice place? If it's not that nice, is it possible that the place where you'd be living be even worse? Might it have bars instead of walls? Might you be on the street, in the hospital, or six feet under?
All knowledge is by comparison, so contrast the life that you currently have with the life that you would have had if you had kept on dancing with your disease.
Studies show that by deliberately cultivating gratitude, we can increase our well-being and happiness. And importantly, a grateful heart doesn't drink or use.
So focus on gratitude and watch your life get great.