Gratitude lists are one of the most powerful ways you can positively influence your own life and develop an attitude of gratitude – without making any changes to your circumstances.
What is a Gratitude List?
A gratitude list is a written record of the things you’re thankful for. It can include absolutely anything that makes you glad, from the profound to the frivolous. It only matters that each item is sincere.
Over time, writing gratitude lists inhibits taking anything for granted, and encourages awe and appreciation for all the beauty and wonder life offers.
What is a Gratitude Log?
A gratitude log is just another name for a gratitude list. The two term can be used interchangeably and simply refer to a written compilation of things you’re grateful for.
Gratitude Lists Have the Power to Change Your Life
I talk often about how valuable journaling is, and there’s plenty of research to support my beliefs.
But if there’s one thing that I value above journaling – which also happens to work perfectly alongside it (see below)! – it’s using gratitude lists to practice gratitude.
I truly believe that writing gratitude lists can change your life for the better.
Granted, this is anecdotal, but my personal experience is the only evidence I need to have me convinced.
I grew up in a home with its fair share of hardships and distress. Circumstances understandably took their toll and I was raised in a very negative environment. Naturally that rubbed off and influenced me – I became pessimistic, angry, and probably very difficult to be around.
I didn’t particularly like the person I’d become, but it wasn’t until l was pregnant with our first daughter that I was able to take a step back, recognise my situation for what it was and make the decision to try to do better for our growing family.
I didn’t want our children growing up with a miserable backdrop to their childhood.
I wanted them to have what I’d desperately wished for but missed out on: a happy childhood, filled with fun and laughter and joy.
Developing An Attitude of Gratitude
With a determination to start looking for and focusing on the good in my life, I decided to start writing weekly gratitude lists on the blog (they’ve since been taken down, but I’ve kept every one for their special memories).
Over time, I changed. Dramatically.
Writing those regular gratitude lists transformed my mindset, and ultimately my life.
They also marked the beginning of my discovery of journaling and the contentment it can bring.
How Practicing Gratitude Can Change Your Life
This is a really big claim, I know. But, regardless of personal circumstances – no matter how stark – my belief is unwavering.
I appreciate that many different people might chance across this article, and I could be talking to somebody who has endured profound loss and grief, or any other tragedy which makes gratitude appear to be a cruel joke.
And yet still I believe in its power.
Practicing gratitude does not diminish anguish. Your anguish is valid.
But, when you’re ready to allow some happiness back into your world so that you can go on to live a full life, writing gratitude lists is a very good place to start.
They won’t change your circumstances – but they can completely change your perspective.
Why Are Gratitude Lists Good?
I recently had a conversation which illustrates the point perfectly (hopefully they won’t mind me sharing!)…
I was waxing lyrical about gratitude, and we were talking about how being around negativity can be draining. While they didn’t disagree, they said it should also be okay to have a moan sometimes.
I responded that while yes, of course if necessary they should be able to have a moan if they need to sometimes, they’d missed the point I was making about practicing gratitude.
If you practice gratitude often, you’ll find that over time, you’ll have less cause to moan.
While the reason technically remains, it doesn’t consume you. Instead you’re consumed by those things you’ve recognised and focused on for which you are grateful.
Your mindset recalibrates, and instead of fixating on the negatives which are expressed in the medium of complaining, you’ll find yourself focusing on the good in your life, which will manifest as positivity.
And we all know that positive people make for far better company than negative, because instead of draining us, they lift us up and leave us feeling cheerful.
And in that sense, our outlook is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Benefits of Keeping a Gratitude Journal
There are multiple benefits attributed to practicing gratitude and writing gratitude lists:
1. Practicing Gratitude Promotes Healthy Reframing
Reframing is huge when it comes to happiness. Here’s an example…
You plan a day out – and then it rains.
You can make a choice to be frustrated and disappointed, spending (wasting) the time feeling bitter.
Or you can tell yourself that it has added a dimension to your day out – but not ruined it.
Perhaps it will be less busy; perhaps you’ll get soaked with your friends or family and it will give you a funny story to recount later.
Besides, how wonderful that you’re spending time with people you love in the first place!
Reframing is incredibly powerful; it’s about changing your perspective about a set of circumstances rather than changing the circumstances themselves – and feeling better for doing so.
Practice doing this often enough, and it will start to become a habit – you’ll find you start naturally defaulting to a more positive mindset.
2. Gratitude Lists Identify Your Values
Looking back over past gratitude lists, something interesting will shine through:
You’ll notice one or several themes recurring in your lists, and it will give you a strong awareness of your own core values. This is important because living according to them is vital to experiencing life satisfaction.
When you better understand your values and what things bring you joy, you’ll be able to make more space in your life for them, further reinforcing your happiness.
3. Writing a Gratitude Log Develops Hope
As you start to experience life differently, more positively, you’ll gain increasing levels of hope.
You’ll notice that life can feel good again, regardless of what has been before, regardless of whether your actual situation changes or improves.
Hope will join your arsenal of positivity tools, increasing your wellbeing.
4. Gratitude Lists Increase Positivity
Experiencing elevated gratitude will make you feel better about your life. That’s not my opinion, it’s a fact.
If you truly feel fortunate, it follows that you can’t help but feel life is good. Essentially, putting in the work of writing down why you are fortunate hacks this process until you default to a positive mindset.
Realising that there’s plenty of good around us, and more specifically in our own little world, helps us to believe in and come to rely on that inherent goodness.
That natural reliance on goodness as a fact is the equivalent of a glass half-full attitude.
Ergo, writing gratitude lists = increased levels of positivity.
5. Practicing Gratitude Facilitates Good Mental Health and Peace of Mind
Taking all of the above points together, ultimately practicing gratitude brings a sense of peace to our lives in a way that few other things can.
Life can be challenging, unpredictable, and tragic. Nothing will change those things, it’s simply a part of the human condition. But we can counter all of that negativity by refusing to put it at the centre of our lives.
Writing gratitude lists is as close to a silver bullet as we can get when it comes to mental health, because there’s always something to be grateful for.
What Should I Put on My Gratitude List?
So what things should include in your gratitude journal or on your gratitude lists?
1. Things to Be Thankful For
Your favourite food, your favourite flower, your new cosy jumper. Jot them all down.
Yep – a little bit frivolous, and definitely things you could live without. But that’s the point – all the more reason to appreciate them.
2. People to Be Grateful For
Probably the most important one on your list. Possibly the most bittersweet too, because sadly people do not stay forever, for many different reasons.
You can always include people on this list, whether they’re currently in your life or not – if they are in your thoughts and you’re grateful for them in the moment, write them down.
3. Moments to Be Grateful For
You know those snapshots of time, where you stop for a second and you’re just filled with pleasure? It might be seeing the sunlight filter through the trees, or watching your children giggling together.
These all go in my happy jar which is filled with memories from our year. They’re also perfect to pop onto a gratitude list.
4. Experiences to Be Grateful For
This might mean positive experiences. But it can also include challenging ones which you feel have taught you something, or provided insight or wisdom from which you’ve grown.
5. Unexpected Kindnesses
I love this one! They may not be frequent, but when this happens it just fills you up with joy for the whole day.
When you can’t stop smiling because somebody has been truly kind, it’s definitely one for your list.
6. Highlight of Your Day
If you write daily gratitude lists, then this is a good one to add each evening. Like with our happy jar, it will also give you lots of happy memories to look back over later.
7. Gratitude Affirmations
If you have certain areas in your life that you’re actively working on improving, this can be a helpful exercise.
If, for example, you want to be more patient with your children, you could use this activity as a prompt. Your positive affirmation might be something along the lines of ‘I am grateful for my beautiful children, and they deserve the best of me’.
Similarly, you could use this idea for work or exercise, etc, reminding yourself of the reason you want to be or do better at a specific task or behaviour.
Gratitude List Examples
If you’re new to this I want to prove how simple and easy writing gratitude lists is. With that in mind I’ve compiled a huge list of things that I’m personally grateful for, to give you some inspiration.
Naturally there will be things on my list which won’t apply to you, and that’s fine. It’s merely meant to spark ideas, no two gratitude lists will be identical, nor should they be.
For example, some people can’t stand coffee and that’s their prerogative (even though they’re wrong), but they might include a glass of cold milk instead – which will never make an appearance on my list!
Gratitude List Ideas
Finally, here’s some inspiration of things to include on your gratitude lists…
- The love of your family.
- A partner who is your sidekick.
- Friends on your wavelength.
- Excellent school teachers for your children.
- Children who give you the best cuddles.
- Siblings who you can count on.
- Nieces and nephews.
- Colleagues who make you belly laugh.
- Friends who have your back.
- Neighbours who look out for you.
- Parents who are wise.
- Chatting with somebody and feeling you’ve made a profound connection.
- The secret language and in-jokes between spouses or partners.
- Dinners out with friends.
- The way close friends treat your children.
- Laughing till you cry with friends.
- Thoughtful texts from friends when you’re having a hard time.
- A friend (often) going out of their way to accommodate an allergy.
- Thoughtful gifts from friends for your children.
- Handmade gifts from friends for your children.
- Looking at old photos of nights out with friends.
- Catching up outside the school gate.
- Voice notes from your bestie.
- Vibrant wildflowers.
- Majestic trees.
- Vast oceans.
- Summer rain.
- Long walks through the woods, looking for fairies with your team.
- Thunderstorms when you’re cosy indoors.
- Warm sunshine on your skin.
- The changing colours of autumn.
- A fresh blanket of snow.
- Colourful coral.
- A single flower in the cracks of a path.
- A field of sunflowers or poppies or lavender.
- Cloud watching with your team.
- Pygmy marmosets.
- That peaceful feeling of being refreshed, revived, and rejuvenated after spending time in nature.
- Gratitude lists!
Hobbies and Interests
- Am I allowed to say journaling again? Okay, bullet journaling!
- Finding a beautiful new item of clothing.
- The ability to treat yourself to said item.
- When a fabulous new of clothing lands on your doorstep and it’s perfect.
- Drawing and painting.
Work and Professional Life
- The catharsis of writing.
- Artistic photography.
- Intricate web design.
- Fascinating psychology.
- Fun events.
- Spending time being creative.
- Bouncing ideas off friends in the industry.
- Helping allergy mums.
- Putting together gift guides.
- Walking to collect your children from school each day.
- Morning cuddles with your little ones.
- Journaling with bigger ones.
- Dancing in the kitchen with your team.
- Birds singing.
- Spending time at a local RHS garden.
- Watching waves crashing on the shore.
- Listening to waves crashing on the shore (my personal happy place).
- Being ‘in flow’ when writing or working out.
- A relaxing bath.
- Red wine.
- A massage.
- Laying on an acupressure mat.
- Mille feuille.
- Biscoff spread.
- Rain when you’re out for a run.
- The muffled sound created by new snow.
- Listening to your favourite playlist.
- The sound of your children laughing.
- Fresh sheets on the bed.
- A hot shower when you’re cold.
- The smiles on your children’s faces when you go for ice cream on a hot and sunny day.
- Their exhilaration when you go to the park.
- The high from a hard run or spin class.
- Spending time with your favourite people.
- The bittersweet end to a book so amazing that you’re sad to reach the last page.
- Watching your children put on a show.
- The fun you have with your other half when you occasionally get to be a couple again!
- When friends make you feel loved.
- A cheesy romantic moment in a favourite show bringing you to tears.
- Watching your children learning to write and draw.
- Listening to children read.
- Family film night with your team.
- Watching your children’s satisfaction when they achieve a new skill.
- Your pride when your children achieve a new skill.
- The unwavering support of a spouse or partner.
- When your partner comes home and surprises you with wine or chocolates, just because.
- Your (my!) partner, simply for putting up with you (me).
- Suits (the show).
- Christmas: the festivities, the socialising, the TV, the shows, the food.
- The feeling of community Christmas brings.
- Choosing gifts for loved ones that you know they’ll love.
- …And trying to out-do your partner every year (with thought, not cost).
- Listening to the radio in the car by yourself.
- Listening to a fascinating podcast in the car with your partner when you’r’e on a road trip together, sans kids.
- Geocaching with your team.
- Splashing in puddles with your team.
- The joy on your children’s faces when you take them swimming.
- Lockdown coming to an end.
- Stand up, live.
- Date nights at Everyman, with a dirty burger brought to your seat.
- All day BBQ’s with family which go on late because nobody wants to leave.
- When strangers smile at you.
- When somebody lets you out in front of them when driving.
- When somebody driving stops to let you cross the road.
- A chat with a stranger, just because.
- Watching, unseen, when a stranger does something kind for somebody else.
- Chivalry (it’s not necessary, but it’s still nice).
- Watching children being kind to each other, when they think nobody is watching.
- The innocence of children.
- The compassion of your children’s teachers.
- Good news stories.
- Having a home.
- Being fortunate enough to own your home.
- Being lucky enough to have an office in your home, which is your own, personal little space (mostly!).
- Being in walking distance of school.
- Being in walking distance of a pedestrianised town.
- Being close enough to walk to the river.
- …Or an orchard.
- …Or a supermarket.
- …A swimming pool.
- …A gym.
- …The library.
- Loving your home.
- Sharing your home with some pretty awesome people.
- Being able to walk to so many places that despite being fortunate enough to own a car, rarely having to use it.
- Living close to family and friends.
- Good neighbours.
- The 1 in 102,685,000 chance (Googled it) of even existing.
- Your senses being in good, working order.
- Having the use of your limbs, so that you can feel, and run, and dance.
- The ability to experience highs and lows, and the depth and richness of life that affords.
- Your job (I’m lucky enough to love mine).
- Learning how to recover your mental health.
- Choosing forgiveness.
- That your past has led you to where you are today.
- Resisting getting caught up in comparison.
- …And instead understanding the importance of appreciating what you have.
- Finding balance in life which brings contentment and peace.
- …And knowing that on the days something feels off, it will pass.
- Reaching a default glass-half-full, positive attitude after lots of work.
- …And gladly accepting that this work will be ongoing for life.
- Clean water.
- Birth control.
- Menstrual products.
- Lip balm.
- The internet.
- Electronic communication.
- Windows (the glass ones).
- Central heating.
- The wheel!
- The postal service.
- Good customer service.
- Stollen (as in the festive favourite!).
- Electric blankets.
- Lazy Sunday mornings.
- Enjoying a coffee in a cafe alone, people watching.
- Canvas bags.
- 7 Pounds (the movie).
- The Crisis, Ennio Morricone (I walked down the aisle to this piece of music from the film!).
- Baby carriers.
- Baby car seats.
- When your baby is still small enough to be carried out of the car in their seat (high fives).
Every item on this list is personal to me. My life is not perfect – there are just as many things that I could complain about if I thought hard enough to find them. And that’s the point:
Instead, they’re overshadowed and diminished by my choice to focus on the things that bring me joy, happiness, and peace.
Gratitude is like a muscle: the more we use it the stronger it becomes, the more naturally it comes, and the more inclined we are towards it.
I challenge you to write gratitude lists every day for a week, or every week for a month – and watch the magic happen in your own life. I guarantee you won’t regret it.