Cultivating Gratitude: a Guide to Recovery Happiness
You’ll only hear it from the saltiest of old timers. It’s the most important part of happiness in recovery. It’s 'Rule #62': “Don’t take yourself so damned seriously.”
Happiness is not a right. The pursuit of happiness is. We’re not entitled to anything. We get to choose what we most want and work hard for it.
- Here's another benefit to using the Keep It Simple System (K.I.S.S.): instead of whining that we just want to be happy, we can consider what it is we need in order to be happy.
In recovery, here's what we know:
- We know to eschew the material things.
- We know that, “all we ever wanted was just a little more than we ever had.”
- We know that if life was truly fair that most of us would have died long before now.
We need a healthy concept of what happiness really is.
The Mythology of Happiness
If we haven’t spent much of our lives being happy, we tend you think of it in “ever after” terms. Happiness in this light is a destination we arrive and stay at. No one attains this because it doesn’t exist.
Happiness is more a state of being than it is an emotion. Gratitude and attitude are the keys. How lovely and disturbing to find that they’re both in our control. Here it comes – another opportunity to get out of our own way.
Using K.I.S.S. we remove obstacles to happiness:
"I Just Wish…"
“I just wish…” is a “poor me.” It’s self pity and it belongs nowhere in our lives. Pining for what we want leads to the ongoing lie of “I’ll be happy when…” This is the ever moving target of what our heart most recently desires. Whether we get it or not, we’re always going to want the next thing:
I just wish:
- I could stay sober
- I could get a job
- I could get a decent place to live
- I could have friends
- I could find someone and fall in love
- And on, and on, and on…
The Ain't It Awful Game
Every once in a while I joke that I’m going to start a group therapy program for people who want to wallow in self pity. Group wallowing starts with one person whining about their troubles, only to have someone else explain why their worries are so much worse. We one up each other about the hopelessness and despair. Why anyone would want to win this game is beyond me. Congratulations, you’re more screwed than the rest of us. We justify our way into being so overwhelmed that we have no accountability and no opportunities for change.
Keep Your Head Where Your Body Is at
As crude as it is, I’ve always been fond of the expression, “I had one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow and I was pissing all over today.” When we’re most unhappy, we’re living in the regrets of the past or the fears of tomorrow. Meanwhile, we’re not grounded in the possibilities of today.
Happiness requires a healthy perspective. We achieve this when we ask ourselves: what do I have control over and what don’t I? What’s mine to manage and what have I taken on that doesn’t belong to me.
Writing a gratitude list is a great start. It increases mindfulness and appreciation for all that we have. If we’re open to it, we receive reminders of all we take for granted. Meetings are good for this, but so is being aware of where your neighbors and community are at in their journeys.
My work with homeless individuals keeps me mindful that all of my basic needs are met. As I aspire to having, doing, and being more, I easily lose sight of how blessed I am.
Grounded in our Priorities
The more our thoughts, choices, and actions reflect our priorities, the happier we are. Being focused on attaining goals yields greater self respect and a sense of accomplishment. The dirty little secret of happiness is that it involves 'Hard Work'. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we see that we don’t just want happiness – we want it to come easily.
I find that I have two choices in life. I can grow spiritually or I can suffer. Being complacent in my relationship with my Higher Power simply doesn’t work. When I surrender what I think I want; I consistently find that what my HP wants for me is far greater than what I think I want.
The problem with doing things my HP’s way is that it always involves me going two steps outside of my comfort zone. I’ve never regretted doing this, yet somehow I manage to resist each next step in the journey. Surrendering my will is a daily occurrence because the God of my understanding wants me to be far more than happy. My HP wants me to have Joy.
Whenever we find ourselves stuck, we’re free to go back to the things that always work. The world is full of people who are up to their ass in alligators. When we are of service to others we make an investment in them and in ourselves. The only way to keep it is to give it away.
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