Why I Hate Gratitude Lists (But I’m Writing One Anyway)
I had such mixed feelings about choosing this topic, but a persistent part of me is proceeding anyway; I’ve historically benefitted from gratitude reflections and also from writing things down. The perfect combination, right?
As much as I’m going to end with my list (please scroll ahead if I’m boring you), I feel that it’s important to acknowledge gratitude lists’ flaws, because frankly, I’m weary of the fact that they are usually accepted as a given, without acknowledgement of their tricky bits.
I’m going to contradict myself and say that fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with gratitude lists. The act of self-reflecting, privately, on the things that we are grateful for in our lives can improve our wellbeing significantly. In fact, there is a substantial body of research on this topic.
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say, then, that most of my issues are in the realm of publicizing gratitude lists (as I am doing here, hence my conundrum) and reading others’ gratitude lists.
Some of the issues that jump out at me include:
- We May Judge Ourselves If We’re Not Feeling Similarly Grateful or Accomplished
Such self-expectations can fall under the umbrella of toxic positivity and can unfortunately be a form of self-gaslighting.
- Gratitude Lists Can Be a Fancy Way of Others Showing Off (Especially on Social Media)
The illusion of the perfect life or people who reveal their “secrets” to a perfect life, can just make us feel badly about ourselves, particularly if we think we should be following a similar path. There is significant research demonstrating that social media has a detrimental effect on the mental health of its users.
- Gratitude Lists Can Be Too General
Such lists can lose their meaning when the points of gratitude are too general, coming across as theoretical and not real-life.
- Gratitude Lists Can Be Cringy
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I roll my eyes when I read these lists. They feel too sappy and un-relatable. Sometimes I even wonder if the gratitude points are even true—especially if it feels like I’m reading a fairy tale.
- Gratitude Lists Can Be Privilege-Driven
Sometimes we choose to reflect on the material things we have and it’s just a fact that not everyone has this kind of access or opportunities. And for those who are navigating oppression, and the multitudinous forms it can take, reflecting on gratitude may not be a priority or worse, repressive and downright harmful, particularly if others with privilege are suggesting they should.
Guidelines for Gratitude Lists
If you feel that a creating a gratitude list would be beneficial for you, the following guidelines may help:
- Be Specific
If I want to feel the impact (and benefit) of something, it needs to be specific. When we’re too vague, things can become theoretical and un-relatable; this is about you and your life!
- Be Far-Ranging – Don’t Limit Yourself
Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a neurodivergent person but I love to think outside the box and let my imagination run wild. If you’re grateful for things that are weird, quirky or fantastical, why not? It’s going to feel a lot more genuine.
- Be Truthful
What you are actually grateful for, not what you think you should be grateful for. Sometimes the gratitude lists that we read can feel like a checklist of things we feel that we feel obligated to appreciate.
- Length Is Not Relevant
Make your list as short or long as you like and remember that just because you haven’t written it down, doesn’t mean that you’re not grateful for it. Making mental notes can still be very helpful. Sometimes having a shorter list helps us meditate more on our points, but for others, a longer list may be where it’s at. This is not meant to be a research document (unless you want it to be).
- Consider Making It Private
Again, I’m contradicting myself here, but sometimes we can be more honest with our lists when we don’t have to be performative. The practice of gratitude is not a competition or a curated presentation. It’s a personal exercise.
- Writing Can Take Things To The Next Level
Sometimes we’re so tired that the thought of writing something down feels too much. I get it and I’m not the writing police. There can be benefits, however, in writing out your list, including increasing thoughtfulness and care (as writing slows things down) and helping with memory retention.
Megan’s Gratitude List For 2022 – 12 Things
My gratitude is not limited to the following, but these are some of the things that have made me smile this year:
- I am grateful for my perseverance in (mostly) doing my physiotherapy exercises this year (said from a long-time hater of exercise) and for my physiotherapist’s steady encouragement and guidance. It’s a long game but my body is moving a little bit better.
- I am grateful to my family member who suggested that we have a sit-down meal together, most Sundays, and I’m thankful that family members have agreed!
- I am grateful that my 2005 car is still running well.
- I am grateful that my hearing loss helps me sleep without being woken up by outside sounds.
- I am grateful for my new, heavenly warm, wool duvet. I never imagined that I could ever say goodbye to my hot water bottle, after 20+ years of service.
- I am grateful for my boots with built-in cleats, that allow me to get around when it’s icy and make it to my downtown office for in-person appointments.
- I am grateful to have replaced my old computer from 2012, which makes video sessions so much smoother.
- I am grateful for knitting’s power to soothe my mind, especially when it’s creative and repetitive, all rolled into one.
- I am grateful for the fact that I have another year of no broken foot bones. Thank you, soft boots!
- I am grateful to have reconnected with an old friend, learning new baking skills whenever we get together.
- I am grateful for the many cumulative kind words and actions I have heard and experienced throughout the year, from family members, clients, friends, service people, health care professionals and strangers. Kindness never gets old.
- I am grateful for my clients’ trust and the opportunity to work together. Knowing you all brings so much meaning to my life.
Interested in getting my articles delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up to my newsletter, The Listening Ear.