Gratitude Friday 11-11-22 – Gratitude and the Eeyore Effect
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
I am pretty sure that most people in recovery know that November is considered gratitude month. I found this link to a General Service Office of AA Box 459 newsletter from the Fall of 2000. The first official recognition of an A.A. Gratitude Week, specifically designed to coincide with Thanksgiving week in the U.S. occurred in 1956. During that era they had Gratitude Dinners that developed into Gratitude Luncheons. The practice of gratitude as part of a recovery process was one they understood, even if the science behind it was not clear at the time.
The examination of gratitude as part of an addiction recovery process has not received a great deal of examination, but there have been some studies. I found this one, “Gratitude, Abstinence, and Alcohol Use Disorders: Report of a Preliminary Finding” Published in 2018. It found that for individuals with alcohol use disorders who were abstinent, the association of gratitude with future abstinence was positive. It also found that trying to get people who were still drinking to practice gratitude may be counterproductive.
We can think of the practice of gratitude as part of the development of recovery capital, another concept that had no name when early 12 step fellowships were developed. They did however understand the concepts of developing new “people places and things” as central to these mutual support programs. It has long been used as part of addiction therapy as the research caught up with practice. It was an important part of my early recovery and helped me to stay off of drugs and alcohol, now for over 36 years. This weekly blog is actually part of my weekly gratitude practice and one of the ways that I keep what I call me Eeyore brain quiet. If I do not regularly practice gratitude, it can become a very loud and destructive internal voice. When writing this article this week I found an article about the Eeyore Effect that describes the downward spiral of negative thoughts which they have actually measured with an MRI. Either I read this article at some point in the past or independently came up with the same term, I am not sure which.
There is a developing body of evidence that practicing gratitude has a lot of overall benefits for all people. I spent a little bit of time exploring efforts to observe gratitude. As I noted above, there was an early focus on gratitude in mutual support programs nearly 80 years ago. I learned that efforts to have a world gratitude day came out of advocacy efforts by Sri Chinmoy, who first suggested that we have a World Gratitude Day in 1965 while attending a Thanksgiving Dinner at a United Nations function. We have a world gratitude day, it is officially celebrated on September 21st each year. I wonder what it would be like if all humans spent the day observing what and whom they were grateful for. I suspect it would change the world if it happened. It is also true that if you the reader did so today it would also change the world.
We also have a National Gratitude Month in the United States. It was officially declared in 2015 and came out of the efforts of author Stacey Grewal who has a 30-day gratitude challenge. She has a web site here in which you can sign up for the 30 day challenge. The science of gratitude is growing. I found this article by renowned author Brenè Brown who noted that in her 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, she did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude. That seems compelling to me.
I will be the first to admit that gratitude is not something that comes naturally. Eeyore reigns supreme in my noggin if left unchecked. I suspect strongly that if I had stopped actively practicing gratitude, addiction would have killed me by now. It is pure self-preservation. The practice of gratitude is a necessity for me to have the life I want to have today. It is also true that practice has made it easier to shift out of my more natural negative oriented state. I cannot afford to stay there long, and it is often not much of a fun place to visit anyway, the glass is mostly empty.
By focusing on gratitude, I am not walking around with rose colored glasses humming the theme song to It’s a Wonderful Life with a saccharin sweet smile pasted on my face. If I have a superpower, it is actually spotting what can go wrong in any given situation and getting a few steps ahead of it. Spotting risks puts my Eeyore brain in gear. Truth be told it is a trauma response, that serves me well but can end up being quite destructive if I do not manage it. Humans have evolved to see snakes hidden in the grass. Our modern world has many real or perceived snakes. If we do not work to attenuate seeing risks and responding to threats, we end up with brains flooded in cortisol. Many of our current health challenges as a people are stress related. The expression and practice of gratitude is one way to combat this, something people in recovery have known about for at least decades.
I am grateful to have a practice of gratitude. It helped save my life.
What are you grateful for today?