Studies show that writing a list of gratitudes each day can improve happiness. So why doesn’t it catch on?

Writing a list of gratitudes is a would-be wellness trend which I can’t imagine kicking off. Adult colouring books took over the walls of Waterstones in 2015 like a bunch of overgrown triffids without their middles coloured in – I received four for Christmas that year – despite the fact the mindfulness technique was not backed up by psychologists. And the quest for a ‘wellness’ trend which appeals to the everyman is still at large; last year it was pitted to us in everything from what we eat, to what items we should throw away, to how many little-book-of- cosy blankets we should buy. Yet I don’t personally know anyone who’s been able to implement them into their day to day life, except for perhaps via a couple of instagram posts and a dedicated place for half read ’Hygge’ guides on the bookshelf.

So what will be next? Rumour has it Staying In will be the new trend for wellness, which is mildly off-putting for the many people who’ve remained huddled up since enjoying a short trial of heightened social activity during fresher’s several years ago and still cringe remembering it. Although I don’t reckon this trend will be about how much you stay in (it’s hardly been abnormal to socialise around once a fortnight/month depending on your preferences) but more about how well your teacup matches your duvet. Of course there’s nothing wrong with trying new things and joining in, plus some people do find them beneficial, but more often than not wellness trends are another commodity to sell rather than about sincerity.

Here’s the deal. A list of gratitudes won’t look pretty on your insta-grid. It doesn’t show any kind of mock-talent like following a recipe for green juices or colouring between the lines. Perhaps the notion is both too old and too Oprah to be fashionable and there’s no funky way to package and sell it. Also, for those of us who are neither spiritual or religious, the connotations of ‘counting your blessings’ seems a little off-kilter with the modern millennial due to it’s slightly churchly connotations. Yet there have been far more studies which associate gratitude with better mental health than there is evidence to support many of the other trends, with some studies concluding that gratitude can help improve mental health more than any other personality trait and other’s concluding there are even physical health benefits too. (See here and here.) Despite this, I can still see why there could be a lack of widespread appeal. There’s something, what’s the word? Well, there’s something kinda lame about it.

I couldn’t write this particular blog without noting that, yes, I am aware that the hashtag #grateful is very much in use. But I doubt the realities of what we’re truly grateful for match the glossy examples given on social media. To be honest about the mundane things one is grateful for is necessary for this exercise to work, so it’s probably a good thing we steer clear of publically announcing how much we appreciated getting the last mango chutney in the corner shop! Furthermore it can be harder to feel grateful when displays of affluence, blue skies or a creeping feeling of FOMO are working against us.

For two weeks I decided to put writing a list of gratitudes to the test. Could it really augment well-being and momentary happiness as this study suggests? Each evening I wrote 3-6 ‘gratitudes’ in a little notebook to see if my mood improved. Admittedly, for the first few days I felt a little silly. I feel I’ve always had an okay sense of perspective and felt lucky for what I have, but there’s only so many times a girl can write ‘hot food’ and ‘my mattress’ down right? I wasn’t going to feel any more grateful just because I wrote it down and the repetition felt a bit like a chore. So I soon changed tack and made sure I wrote down what had really had a positive emotional impact on my day rather than slumming for what I thought I should write. My gratitude list was soon fleshed out with everything from, for example, the film I chose to watch on Netflix turning out to be great and a silly GIF my friend sent me, to the weather finally being warm enough to sleep naked without the heating on and my friend lending me a dress. (FYI those last two were not related.) Committing to the process meant I had to really pay attention to these positive little moments throughout the day in order to mark them down with ink – and it felt kinda good!

For the record, if anyone ever tells you that we have the power to control our mental state with positive thinking, please call bullshit; it’s unhelpful for people with mental health issues to be told what is good for them from anyone who isn’t an assigned professional. Whilst there is evidence to suggest spending time outdoors, exercise or listing gratitudes can reduce some of the symptoms for some people, there’s plenty more evidence to show mental health is a lot more complicated! In my case, the practise certainly didn’t reduce anxiety or cause the subsequent insomnia to dissipate. With that li’l disclaimer out the way, I’ll continue…

After learning to become unashamedly honest when writing my lists, the experience became somewhat beneficial. I’m not sure if this was down to writing the gratitude or the fact I was more alert to looking out for the good little things thus appreciating them throughout the day. I’m not going to pretend that I started skipping and blowing bubbles over the difficulties I’m having in my personal life and career but I did find it easier to deal with everything when I was taking care to appreciate my morning coffee and crunchy vegetables. One morning I even grabbed my notebook to write ‘1) slept well but had a weird dream, 2) I don’t remember my weird dream.’  The best thing was remembering that most negative things have an upside, even if it’s just being grateful for your ability to handle them.

You know how they say it’s the little things that count? It’s true. I’ve yet to find anyone who is happy with all the BIG things. (Do you know many people who are already on the right career path/ feel both physically and mentally healthy/happy with where they live/ have an active social life or healthy relationship?) But despite that, despite everything that is going on, despite the fact we have bad days and really really bad days, most of us can find things which at least provoke comfort, if not happiness. We cling to knowing we can pop the kettle on when we get home, or look forward to glass of red with friends on Friday night.  Maybe you get to walk past a pretty duck pond on the way to the bus stop, maybe you’re finally earning enough to buy a new pair of jeans next month, maybe you just scratched that itch and it felt kinda good. The simple things. What’s the harm in making an effort to recognise and appreciate them everyday? And what better way to make sure you do it than writing them down?

Long term, I’m not going to pretend I’m organised enough to continue with this everyday. But I will have my pen and notebook at the ready when willing and not worry about how I’m writing something which lacks grit or creativity… cuz yeah, sometimes I feel like my brain is useless when all I’m inspired to write one day is a shopping list. But this isn’t about writing or journalling. This is just a way promote a little gratitude. And maybe it’s kinda lame but today I am grateful for… the fact I’m way to mature to care if anyone think it’s lame! And you know, the fact I was educated on how to write words to begin with. Plus while I’m writing this I have pom bears!! And it finally feels like Spring! And, and, and…

Hm, funny that, I’m feeling better already.

(Top tip: if you’re not convinced that writing a list of gratitudes is for you, another wellness trend apparently due to kick off is, ah hem, cannabis. There truly is something for everyone…)

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5 thoughts on “Studies show that writing a list of gratitudes each day can improve happiness. So why doesn’t it catch on?

  1. Writing down your thoughts on gratitude is something I started doing recently, not daily but getting there, as it is such an important factor that plays in our happiness. Once we realise that we have, and start focusing on that rather than on what we don’t have it, we automatically become happier. Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂 It’s so true! Honestly, when I look at friends who appear happier it’s seldom because they have more but because they are more likely to talk positively, to the extent I found a study which said being around negative people has an impact on your mental wellbeing too. All for gratitude in whatever form it takes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most wellness trends are just selling us a respite from the relentless grind of capitalism, which is ironic given that you have to spend more money to achieve them. Actually taking care of your mental well-being is hard, and like you said, feels a bit lame (because no one hypes it, because it can’t be used to make money). I don’t make gratitude lists but I often think about the incredibly lucky position I’m in, in so many different ways, and it relieves some of my stress and makes me much happier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. Before parting with money it makes sense to see how long the trend has been around too; I mean, you’re probably safe with a reasonably cheap yoga class compared to a trend no one had heard of three months ago or has inexplicable branding.
      I’m not sure if I will continue with the lists (though I may force myself in tougher times) but remembering good fortune means never feeling bitter or negative about the position you’re in. Positivity is so important.
      Thanks again for commenting 🙂 x

      Like

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