Gratitude lists have become popular in recent years – and if you’re not already taking time out of your day to note down the things you’re grateful for, there are many reasons why you might want to consider it.
Forcing your brain to think back over your day and your memories can not only feel therapeutic in the moment – that rush of thinking, ‘Actually, I do have a lot to be grateful for’ – but it could be beneficial for your mental health in the long-term too.
All it takes is noting down the people, things and events you appreciate in your life – surely making it one of the easiest ways to practice self-care.
The idea is, the more you write down what you’re feeling grateful for, the more you start to notice and appreciate the things that make you happy – and you can then implement these things more into your routine.
Professor Craig Jackson, Head of Psychology at Birmingham City University, says: “If I was to make a list and I notice every day that I put down walking my dog every day for 20 minutes round the local church and it’s nice and quiet, I might try and do more of that dog-walking, particularly at times when I’m stressed or I need to get away or I’ve got things on my mind.”
A sense of control
It’s all down to you with these lists – how many things you note down, when and where you do it – which can be rewarding in itself.
“Generally, it’s a really positive idea because people feel like they’re taking control, “says Professor Jackson. “They’re not being told what to do, and it’s also not like some forms of therapy where the therapist won’t tell you what to do – they just kind of give you hints and you have to work it out for yourself.
“With this, you’re doing it yourself, in your own time that’s convenient to you; you feel as though you’ve got control and autonomy over the whole process.”
Carry your gratitude list with you for a boost on the go
Whether you write your list on a scrap of paper, a journal or even on your phone – keeping it with you means you’ll have something to look at whenever you need a boost.
Professor Jackson says: “It can be empowering knowing you’re carrying these lists around to look at any time. Some people may feel it symbolises that 10 minutes of calm at the end of the day. For others, it may symbolise that they want to make a change. People carry this list around with them almost like a talisman, they feel as though they’ll get some sort of emotional strength having it.”
Use your gratitude list as a tool for managing stress
Professor Jackson reckons gratitude lists are something people should do in their workplaces more – it doesn’t have to be something you do at home in your pyjamas before bed.
“Many people who are stressed at work or find work very anxious, this [writing lists] is something they can do to really help,” he says. “You can do a separate list of what you’re grateful for in your work life – whether it’s someone smiling to you every day, or the coffee’s good, or the canteen’s nice, noting down all those little things will actually help people who are suffering workplace problems as well.”
How to create a gratitude list
Want to give it a go? These tips will help you get started…
1. Be specific
Hypnotherapist and anxiety expert Chloe Brotheridge, author of The Anxiety Solution, says it’s important to be specific in your gratitude lists.
“Instead of just writing about being grateful for your family, write about specific reasons you’re grateful for a particular family member – do they make amazing spag bol? Do they give the best hugs?
“It forces your brain to do more ‘searching’, and it’s this mental ‘searching’ for good things that trains your brain to automatically seek out good things, making you more naturally positive. It’s a great thing to do for those with anxiety because anxious people will often think the worst; gratitude counteracts that.”
2. Splurge on stationary
You can write your list on whatever you like, but meditation expert Lucy Wakefield, founder of wellness brand Calmia, reckons it’s a good idea to really think about your stationary.
“Choose a notebook that fits the job – too big and the task is almost daunting, too small and there’s not enough room to write everything,” she says. “Keep it with a nice pen or pens – I like to doodle – by your bedside.”
3. Include the small things
As has already been touched on, Lucy says it’s important to try and remember the little things you’re grateful for – after all, not every day is filled with big events or gestures.
“Initially, I was always writing on the same big themes – ‘I’m grateful for my lovely children, my health, etc’. Now, I am noticing the subtle and small things. Like today: ‘It may have been raining but I’m so grateful we get to walk home from school through the park. Today, we picked a few sweet blackberries… That’s a first; we’ve never, ever had blackberries in early July before!’”
4. Pass on the positivity
Once you get into the habit, you might even find you’re feeling more appreciative in everyday life – and that’s great! So share the love.
Lucy adds: “Remember, you don’t have to save your gratitude for your journal. Tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them and say thanks to all the people you encounter – pass on the positivity and everyone feels better.”