A full and thankful heart: writings about gratitude by Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder, Bill Wilson

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Background: A robust literature on gratitude has accumulated in recent years as a result of the positive psychology movement. Gratitude is a prominent theme in the 12 step program Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and yet there is little empirical research on the role of gratitude in addiction recovery, and less still on the role of gratitude in AA. Method: Thematic analysis and grounded theory methodology were employed to produce a framework of AA co-founder Wilson’s conceptualization of gratitude in AA. In the AA text, As Bill Sees It, 17 pages are indexed to the topic “gratitude.” The content of these pages served as data for the current study. Results: The resulting conceptual framework depicts three themes which describe a circular process: (1) benefactors exist in the form of God and other people, the benefactors (2) provide “gifts,” most notably the AA program and recovery from alcoholism, and (3) these gifts are reciprocated. Conclusions: The findings closely map to psychological and philosophical depictions of gratitude as something that involves the aid of a benefactor in the provision of gifts that are unearned and cannot be repaid but which motivate reciprocation. The conceptual framework reveals constructs related to gratitude such as humility, arrogance, relationship to God, and interpersonal social support. These constructs can be examined as phenomena that co-occur with gratitude or as mechanisms of the effect of gratitude on recovery in future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-461
Number of pages11
JournalAddiction Research and Theory
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • addiction recovery
  • gratitude
  • qualitative methods


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