Why Gratitude is One of the Most Powerful Forces of Recovery

Two people showing gratitude during recoveryGratitude is defined as, “Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness; thankfulness.” Similar to appreciation, gratitude occurs when we affirm the goodness we’ve received in life. Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude, stated in his Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude is Good”,

“…We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people – or even higher power, if you’re of a spiritual mindset – gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Gratitude is a powerful force for many in recovery because it’s all about understanding how lucky, blessed and/or gifted to have the support, tools and help that we’ve received along the way. When we express gratitude, we send out positive wishes to the world – because rather than expecting that we’d receive help, or assuming that we deserve all the help we’ve received, we acknowledge all of the forces that have made our currently reality possible.

12-Step Programs and Gratitude

Gratitude is a major component of 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). The 12th step states,

“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [those with addiction], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Many in addiction recovery would say that by the end of their program, they likely feel thankful for their journey; it is through this gratitude that they can now become useful in others’ lives, and that’s where their guidance to others often comes into play. A 2017 study published in the journal Addiction Research & Theory assessed 184 members of 12-Step recovery programs in an effort to find out what effects gratitude had on their recovery. This is what the researchers found:

  • Higher levels of gratitude predicted greater participation in 12-Step practices, AA promises, post-traumatic growth and social support
  • The more gratitude individual members felt, the less likely they were to experience health issues and negative emotions

Overall, those who practiced gratitude reported better quality of life – but how is this? The effects of gratitude can benefit our lives in more ways than one. Not only can it strengthen our relationships with others, but it can provide us a with a load of other physical, psychological and social effects, too.

The Transformative Effects of Gratitude

Robert Emmens, the researcher aforementioned, explains that gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion that requires us to see how we’ve been supported. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley explored the very powerful effects of gratitude:


  • Less aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Better sleep
  • Increased exercise


  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • Greater alertness and vitality
  • Enhanced joy and pleasure
  • Optimism and happiness


  • More helpful, generous and compassion towards others
  • Forgiveness is practiced more
  • More outgoing
  • Less loneliness and isolation

The powerful effects of gratitude often stem from recognizing that it wasn’t us – that it was something outside of ourselves – that got us to where we are today. For those in recovery, gratitude could be towards a number of people: peers in recovery, a sponsor, a therapist, healthcare team, family, friends, coworkers and more can all create a huge impact in the grand scheme of someone’s life.

Gratitude tunes us into the present moment – it grounds us and allows us to recognize how we got to the “here and now”. It also blocks negative emotions that stem from ungratefulness, such as envy, resentment and regret. If you really think about it, those emotions cannot exist alongside gratitude. When we’re grateful, we’re accepting all of the love we’ve received from another source – which could also include a higher power.

Spirituality and Gratitude

Spirituality is crucial aspect of recovery for many people, because addiction negatively affects the mind, body and the spirit. 12-Step programs and formal treatment programs alike help people strengthen their spirituality; In 2017, Forbes Magazine noted that while gratitude is a common theme around Thanksgiving, it’s an ultimate spiritual practice that can be for anytime, any day. They mentioned Deepak Chopra, an American author, public speaker and prominent leader in spirituality, who had emphasized that gratitude is recognizing the presence of the Divine in our lives. Rather than a strictly religious perspective, gratitude is a spiritual practice that is considered the “antidote” to many forms of suffering.

Start Practicing Today

There is no special occasion that needs to take place in order for gratitude to occur. We can easily reflect on the paths we’ve taken, on the conversations we’ve had with others that have inspired us, on the people who have contributed to our recovery and so much more. Gratitude places us in a position to not only recognize how far we’ve come, but to recognize and thank the people who’ve helped us get to where we need to be.

If you’ve been struggling with substance addiction, don’t wait any longer to seek the help you need.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.