I am among the first moaners when the topic for discussion is gratitude. It’s a very popular topic in my neck of the woods. I would call gratitude one of the foundation principles of AA. I see that many AA bloggers include gratitude in most or every post. Some AA blogs are really just gratitude lists.
It’s more than being thankful for things, like we list at Thanksgiving. It certainly is that, but it’s also more. Early on, someone in the program gave me a key to understanding. He said, “Say ‘Thank God’ instead of ‘God dammit.'” Shortly after that, someone cut me off in traffic and I nearly had a car accident. I was able to say, “Thank God I didn’t have an accident.” This has stayed with me until now, and it’s a bit of a joke that when I’m with someone in a car and we have a near miss, I say, “Thank God we didn’t meet them.” I can be angry and frightened and shook up by the experience, but very quickly I’m able to go to a place where I’m grateful for the way it turned out.
It’s become more than second nature to generate spontaneous as well as planned gratitude lists. Whatever my situation, my mind always goes quickly to how things could be worse. My years in AA have also made me privy to thousands of scenarios and tragedies, and I always know of at least one person who has gone through what I am, but in a harder way.
So there is the gratitude list. I started looking through the pictures I have on the computer to illustrate (in an anonymous way, of course) the zillions of things I am grateful for today. I’m healthy and wealthy, in that my body mostly works fine, and I have every material things I need and plenty more. My family is wonderful. My job is a blessing. My neighborhood is safe. My marriage is good. My wife shares my politics. I have good books, interesting television, this computer, good restaurants.
My church is awesome. My kids are bright. My pets are wonderful. My home group gives me joy.
It is important to remember and list all that, especially when something bad happens. At times, things that are truly awful happen, but all the things from that list don’t go bad at once. I believe in a sense that we have within us the angel and the devil, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. I heard it put as a story once, something about a good wolf and an evil wolf battling it out inside a person. It was asked, which will will the battle? And the answer was, the one you feed will be stronger and will win.
So being grateful and listing good things becomes an ingrained habit. The mood that puts me in determines, to a large degree, the quality of my days. There’s less room for fear, anger, jealousy and all that in my mind and my heart when I fill it with good things and good thoughts.
This is where “yeah, but” fits and becomes a useful tool. When something is bad, I can usually “yeah, but” and see a bright side, or at least other things that are good. I say why not develop this habit, if it leads to more happiness and serenity down the road? But what’s even more important than that is the idea that practicing and getting good at being grateful will make sobriety much more likely.