The Daily Gratitude List
The antidote to self-pity.
Posted Nov 25, 2015
The other day a friend sent me a link to Arthur C. Brooks’ New York Times article “Choose to Be Grateful: It Will Make You Happier.” It’s an excellent piece, rich with links to the relevant scientific literature. I wish I had written it, and I’m thankful to Brooks for writing it. I thought Brooks had said it all, and maybe he has, but I also felt inspired to share some thoughts about my practice of writing a daily gratitude list.
One of the obstacles to expressing gratitude is that one may not feel like there is anyone to whom the gratitude should be directed. It’s humbling and rewarding to express gratitude directly to a person, but that takes more effort than some people are willing to make, at least at first. Believers can express gratitude to God, but non-believers don’t have that option. I have found that it is possible to be grateful in the abstract. Writing a daily list of people and things I am grateful for does not require me to address anyone directly. Of course, I try to take the opportunity to express gratitude directly to a person when I can, but this is not necessary for beginners.
The important thing, I have found, is to recognize that things are better than they might have been. I need to see that things could be worse. More positively, things are much better than they might have been.
The items on my daily gratitude list range from the small and fleeting to the grand and enduring. I’m grateful that I don’t have a cold; I’m grateful that it’s a sunny day; I’m grateful for the smell of smoke from a wood-burning stove; I’m grateful for my wife who walks gently through life with me; I’m grateful for healthy children who make me laugh; I’m grateful for meaningful work and financial security. The list goes on, but you get the point.
I have holes in my gratitude bucket, and so I need to top it off daily. The list is different for me every day. To be sure, some items recur regularly, but a lot of them change. That is good because there is always something new to be grateful for. But this is bad as well because it reflects how quickly my gratitude for something fades.
The daily gratitude list started for me as a cure for self-pity, but it has now become a matter of prevention. And it prevents more than self-pity. I’ve found that the expression of gratitude prevents all manner of negative thoughts and feelings by framing my perspective on what is good to start the day.
Take it from a cynical guy, the gratitude list is not just for Pollyanna. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose but self-pity.
William Irwin is the author of The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism.