Gratitude Lists

Many of us concentrate on what we want, instead of what we have. Our Western society is based on consumerism — manufactured desires for the next great thing. Many billions of dollars are spent supporting the frame of mind that keeps us wanting, and spending, and wanting again. The same is true of other parts of life. Popular entertainment and society combine to make us believe that certain things mean success and that we need those things to be happy. Along those lines, it is worth noting that people in Third World countries tend to report that they are generally happy more often than people in the US, despite their much lower standards of living.

We may have been allowed to grow up believing that only a certain amount of effort is needed in life, and after that we’re entitled to reap the benefits—regardless of reality. This is guaranteed to make us bitter when the rest of the world doesn’t see things that way. Or we may have been led to believe that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be good enough. This often leads to a feeling of defeat that pretty much guarantees the prediction will prove to be true.

Some people spend many years searching for more, more, more, in the hope that the spotlight, more power, more money, more prestige, more “stuff” will overcome their feelings that they are just not good enough. Fortunately, it is possible to learn that isn’t the case, and that those things never will be the answer.

We can often improve our mood, demeanor and serenity by bringing our thoughts back to the fact that we may or may not be responsible for the ideas that have been poured into our heads, but that we are responsible for how we choose to deal with them.

Sitting down with pen and paper, and concentrating on writing a list of things that we’re grateful for can offset the idea that happiness is dependent on things outside of ourselves—that we can buy happiness, or that someone else can fill us with it. It can help us to appreciate what we already have, and also to decide what’s really important and what isn’t. In my life, I can choose to have an “attitude of gratitude,” or I can let my demons drag me around by my wants. It’s up to me.

Thought for the day :

I have neither the right, nor the responsibility, to judge others. Depending on my attitude I can view newcomers to [my fellowships], family members and friends as menaces or as teachers. When I think of some of my past judgments, it is clear how my self-righteousness caused me spiritual harm. ~ Daily Reflections, Hazelden

Sometimes I do this…

Some of you will remember George Carlin. For those who don’t, he was a stand-up comedian (one of the best) back in the days when we still hitched our chariots to dinosaurs. In one of my favorite Carlin gags, he would walk onstage, stand in front of his stool and do a funny little wiggle and jerk, saying,

Sometimes I do this…(pause)

…and then I wonder why!”

When I was still acting out in my various addictions, I just thought that was funny. Carlin, who passed away in 2008, had his experiences with some of the issues I struggled with. He was no stranger to the world of doing strange things and then wondering why. Now that I’m a bit more introspective, I can see how George’s shtick totally applied to me then – and how it still does now, from time to time.

I suspect all alcoholics and other addicts can relate. Often we do impulsive things and then wonder why – especially in early recovery, but (in my case) pretty often even “a few 24 hours” in. I tend toward verbal gaffes myself, being now of an age when free-fall parachuting and extreme banjo-picking aren’t really practical, but there have been times when the credit card was smoking a bit for what later proved to be questionable reasons. The phrase “It seemed like a good idea at the time” still applies more often than I’d like.

As for early sobriety, I clearly recall an endeavor when I blew a lot of money on a pyramid scheme that I never came close to recouping. I think there are still a couple of water filters around here someplace.

When we’re active in our addictions, especially the chemical variety, the parts of our brains that control our decision-making are suppressed. When we start getting sober, it takes them quite a while to come back to normal (if they ever were normal to begin with). Some of us never completely develop those internal controls, and continue to experience impulsive behavior. Let’s not even talk about substitute addictions and continued suppression of our control functions.

I need to remember that. I was “in recovery” for a long time, and then I dropped my hidden addiction and started getting truly sober about 23 years later on. My thinking was that of an addict for probably more than 60 years, because my dysfunction began early. I still get those “wonder why” moments occasionally, and they rarely enhance the quality of my life.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe we aren’t checking out our bright ideas with supports. Perhaps we’re (still) not pausing to think for a moment before we speak, especially when we’re angry or frightened. I’m not suggesting any cures for that except mindfulness, working our programs, and generally checking in with our sponsors, therapists, and other supports – maybe even our partners – to talk about our issues and get some other folks’ perspective.

I realized some years ago that I was nowhere near as sober as I thought I was, and sometimes the unskillful ways slip back in. I still need to be careful. Do you?