Active Gratitude = A Better Recovery
Dr. Amy Krentzman is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. She’s also fascinated with addiction recovery – so much so that she’s dedicated her professional life to studying it.
Before Dr. Krentzman joined the University of Minnesota and was interviewed in places like BBC News, she received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. While there, she became enamored with the idea of positive psychology.
She even went as far as running a study to figure out how and why gratitude, as a form of positive psychology, worked so well for recovering alcoholics. Her reasoning?
“Recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous has always involved gratitude…substance abuse counselors also report encouraging gratitude and positive social engagement for their clients. But no one has done the research to back up the belief that these kinds of practices work” (The Minnesota Post).
Learn what positive psychology is, what she found out, and why gratitude helps people in recovery thrive below!
What is Positive Psychology?
Without going into an incredibly detailed and scientific explanation of positive psychology, it’s basically the study of positive mental health rather than negative mental health.
In her interview with The Minnesota Post, Dr. Krentzman uses the example of how more traditional psychology – “a focus on pathology” – can help someone move from a negative mental state to a neutral one. She goes on to explain that once someone is in this neutral mental state, positive psychology can be used to move into an upbeat and healthy mental state.
Makes sense to me!
Although the term positive psychology dates back to the 1950s, its practical application began in 1998. This was when Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association and started a widespread movement to focus on positive mental health.
It’s important to note that positive psychology isn’t limited to gratitude or recovery from substance abuse. It’s an entire field of study that spans multiple areas.
Dr. Krentzman settled on gratitude because of her own interest in recovery. She notes in her Minnesota Post interview that, “Gratitude is a frequent topic in recovery circles and appears as a theme in Alcoholics Anonymous literature.”
So began her pilot study to learn why and how gratitude works for alcoholics.
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Why Does Gratitude Help Those in Recovery?
While Dr. Krentzman was getting her doctorate at the University of Michigan, she conducted a pretty interesting experiment to learn about gratitude in early recovery.
She took a group of people in treatment for alcoholism and divided them into two groups – the gratitude group and the normal group. She had members of the gratitude group do something called “the three good things” for two weeks. She had the normal group answer six “unrelated open-ended questions.”
The three good things is a positive psychology exercise where participants think of, predictably, three good things that have happened to them that day. They then reflect on why these things happened.
So, what did she find? Well, those in the gratitude group “felt more calm, serene, peaceful, and at ease…[they] were less irritated, angry or upset. They reported a significant decrease in negative mood” (Minnesota Post).
Members of the normal group didn’t report doing negatively as a result of not practicing gratitude, but they certainly didn’t experience any of the positive results the gratitude group did.
Thanks to her study, Dr. Krentzman believe that gratitude helps keep alcoholics sober because it reinforces their sobriety. In fact, members of her gratitude group reported that practicing active gratitude reminded them they were on the right path.
While the exact scientific and biological reasons that positive psychology and gratitude help alcoholics stay sober remains unknown, you can’t argue that something very good happens when people – alcoholic or otherwise – practice gratitude. That’s something we can all celebrate!