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Erin Olivo, Ph.D.
Erin Olivo Ph.D.

Are Gratitude Lists Too Good to Be True?

Not if you learn how to make a list that really works.

When you hear the research about gratitude improving your health, making you feel more connected to others, and lifting your mood - are you skeptical? How are you going to feel better just by making a list? And do those psychologists actually think that this Pollyanna-attitude-thing is going to help when you’re really feeling crappy?

It may sound too good to be true, but I’m here to tell you it’s not. Gratitude increases happiness and is a great antidote to many things, including anger and bitterness (read this post I wrote to learn more about happiness and gratitude). It’s also a key component of Wise Mind Living.

Here’s how to make a gratitude list so it really works.

Get specific.

It’s not enough to just write, “I’m grateful that my husband is a good guy.” The positive impact you get from gratitude increases when you offer yourself real, specific evidence for why you feel grateful. “I am grateful that my husband got up with the kids and let me sleep in this morning” is more specific and will have a greater impact on improving your mood. Think about it as building up a case of evidence for feeling good.

Do it every day.

Research shows that the more you do something the more likely it will become a habit. The longer your gratitude list gets, the greater the case you’re building for feeling positive. Over time you will find that having a gratitude practice can actually change your overall perspective on life.

Share it.

The gratitude list itself will help you feel more positive but if you want to increase that feel-good vibe, share your thanks with others. If being grateful that your boss supported and green-lighted your project is on your list, tell her! You’ll feel more connected to other people in your life if you share your thanks with them. This also improves your relationships.

Try to find the good in the bad.

It’s ridiculous to expect that simply focusing on the fact that it’s a bright sunny day will make you feel better when something really bad is going on. But it will improve your outlook if you try to find the opportunity or the lesson to be learned in a not-so-great situation. “It sucks that George broke up with me but I’m grateful that I’m not in a relationship with someone who isn’t really into me. I want to be with someone who thinks that I’m amazing!”

Give these a try the next time you start your gratitude list and let me know how they worked for you.

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© 2014, Erin Olivo, PhD

About the Author
Erin Olivo, Ph.D.

Erin Olivo, Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University.