In this article, you’ll learn about what gratitude lists are, the benefit of making gratitude lists, and some examples you can use in your own life.
A phrase I’ve been seeing tossed around a lot is that you cannot be anxious and grateful at the same time.
According to positive psychologists, gratitude is the human way of acknowledging the good things of life.
Emmons & McCullough in their book, The Psychology of Gratitude (series in affective science), define gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.
Over time, being thankful—whether that’s for ourselves, others, a divine spirit, or our planet—can have its benefits. The benefits of a gratitude list include:
- Emotional benefits—feeling happier, confident, and more satisfied in life
- Social benefits—improved relationships and interpersonal/romantic connections
- Personality benefits—increased ability to give more to others and feel more optimistic
- Career benefits—balancing better under stress and uncertainty while increasing patience
- Health benefits—improved sleep, lower blood pressure, reduced symptoms of depression
All of these benefits of a gratitude list can help improve a person’s overall state of happiness and ability to see through a lens of positivity.
When we’re depressed, we may feel a sense of hopelessness, unworthiness, and bouts of negativity that can create toxic thoughts and rumination.
By breaking these cycles with a gratitude list, we can challenge ourselves to reframe and rethink our situations.
In fact, studies show that practicing gratitude regularly can help neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves, as well as increase our brain’s “happy” hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Rewiring our minds in this way can have a tremendous impact on our lives.
Gratitude List – Rewiring the Brain
Now that we know just how powerful a gratitude list is, how can we put it into practice? For someone who is depressed, anxious, suicidal, or suffering from other mental health illnesses, it can feel nearly impossible to come up with things that we’re grateful for.
It may feel as if no matter what, things will always be bad. That’s why, like with anything challenging, it’s important to start small.
A gratitude list is a simple, cheap, easy, and pleasant intervention to perform, and studies show that gratitude intervention can increase positive affect, subjective happiness, life satisfaction, and reduce depression symptoms.
Starting with a gratitude list may help make the practice feel achievable and attainable. All you need is a writing utensil and paper, or you can even write your list on a phone/computer. The main idea is to put into words what it is you are grateful for/to.
Here is an example of a gratitude list.
I am grateful for…
- Having a warm home to keep me safe during a snowstorm
- My best friend, who, even hundreds of miles away, I can call for support
- My spouse/partner, who made a delicious meal the other night
- My coworkers for understanding our shared frustrations at work
- This mug of tea beside me
- My dog/cat/bunny
- My neighbor who always looks out for my house while I’m away
- My favorite TV show because it makes me laugh
- This candle because it’s my favorite scent
You can see how the list can vary from something very simple (a mug of tea) to something very personal (coworkers/friends/spouse providing support). The gratitude list can be as simple or as specific as you need, but I personally find that the more specific I am, the more I can pay attention to details that have a positive effect on me.
For example, instead of saying “I’m grateful for my dog” I could say, “I am grateful for my dog, Toby, because he warms my feet on cold nights and always greets me with his friendly presence.”
These specifics can enhance this feeling of gratitude because you can see that it is multi-layered. In this example, I’m not just grateful for my dog—I’m grateful for what he gives me (a feeling of safety and comfort).
Like meditation or yoga, gratitude takes time and practice. The benefits are enormous, but the long-lasting effects happen when we create gratitude lists regularly.
Lists are an excellent start because they are a way of focusing on positive aspects of our lives. We can see how the simplest of things can have a lasting impact on us. It highlights areas of our life that we can look to in times of stress or depression.
Another way we can practice gratitude is during other self-care practices, such as yoga. I once took a yoga class where the instructor led us through a gratefulness meditation. She expressed gratitude for her feet.
At first, the idea made some of the class laugh—how can you be grateful for a foot? But she was specific—she said that feet do so much for us, for our bodies. They allow our entire selves to balance, to stand, to dance, to move from one place to another.
We rely on them each day to get us to where we want to go, and we don’t even have to think twice about it. That idea stayed with me because it’s true—we don’t have to look further than our own feet if we want to feel grateful.
Gratitude Lists and Body Image
The same can be said about all different parts of our bodies. This is especially helpful if you struggle with your body image. I have had many times in my life (and still do) where I focused on what was “wrong” about my body.
It’s so much easier to look at the negative, the flaws, the things we don’t like. It’s easy to wallow in what we wished was different or better. But if we can apply gratitude to our bodies, it can help to reframe how we think of our body as a whole.
For example, maybe you wished you had fuller lips or a flatter stomach. Maybe you think that having bigger lips would make you a better, more attractive person. But how can rephrase this idea to be something you’re grateful for?
For example, your lips have allowed you to taste frothy whipped cream or feel the soft touch of a partner’s cheek. Your lips allow you to speak or sing, shaping your sounds in the exact way you need them without even thinking about it.
Think about all the ways that your stomach has helped you—it has digested food, beverages, and all kinds of toxins our bodies face each day. It filters out the good from the bad and aids in nourishing your body.
These are things we don’t think about daily, but if we start to replace some of those negative thoughts with grateful ones, we can see just how much our body helps us instead of hurts us.
We can thank our bodies rather than continuously criticize them, and in turn, reduce our temptation of constantly criticizing ourselves as people.
Like gratitude lists, we can practice gratitude in journals. Journaling is a powerful tool we can use to reflect on our days, situations, frustrations, emotions, and more. It can be a way for us to vent out our repressed feelings in a healthy way.
However, it’s important to balance out any negativity with a gratitude journal. These kinds of journals can expand upon a gratitude list by going into details about what you’re grateful for.
Was there something today that particularly stood out to you? What happened at work that made you feel thankful? Was there a moment today where you felt at peace and relaxed?
If you have trouble getting started, you can access a variety of gratitude list examples online to get you feeling inspired.
Here are some gratitude list examples:
- What’s something that you’re looking forward to?
- What’s a simple pleasure that you’re grateful for?
- What’s something that you’re grateful to have today that you didn’t have a year ago?
- Write about a happy memory.
- Write about some place you’ve been that you’re grateful for.
- What’s something about your body or health that you’re grateful for?
- Open the door or window and look outside. What’s something you’re grateful for outside?
- What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of?
If you’re struggling with a mental health disorder or would like to increase optimism and positivity in your life overall, writing a gratitude list is an excellent, cheap, easy, fast, and effective way to get you to feeling better.
If you write gratitude lists, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.