For many the beginning of a new year means a focus on what is coming up and what will be happening in the future. But many psychologists believe it’s also important to reflect on what has been. Some of us may be keen to see the back of the year gone by, but finding the positives and celebrating the good in a gratitude list can not only change what we previously thought was a ‘bad year’ in our minds, but help our mental and physical health.
A study in the Journal of Religion and Health found that those who were more grateful for who they are and what they have, were more hopeful and also physically healthier. And many other studies have shown that when people actively take the time to list the things they are grateful for, they feel better mentally and physically than those who haven’t done the same. Finishing the year – and starting the next – with a list of positives is a brilliant way of going into a new year with a fresh mindset.
Writing a list is not something many of us struggle with when it’s practical things like shopping or ‘to do today’, but when you have a whole 365 days to sift through and the noise of general life, it can leave you with a blank. This is why you need to ensure you are in the correct frame of mind and also committed to making the list. Once you think of one thing it becomes easier to think of other things to add to the list. You do not need to start at the beginning of 2018 and work your way through, it’s fine to do things your way and list events and achievements which come to you in which ever order they come to you.
But do make time to do it as it’s easy to put it off so long it never happens. Diary yourself half an hour to sit with a coffee and just think of one instance, you will usually find this has a magnetizing power and other instances come to you as a result. Getting started is the biggest hurdle!
You need to be an open and honest frame of mind to write a gratitude list. There’s no point trying to scribble something down just before doing the school run or late at night when you know you have work in the morning. Make sure you are relaxed and have the time and space to focus. Turn off your phone, perhaps think about going to somewhere you won’t feel the need to ‘just do some washing up’ like a calm and welcoming café or even an outside space. Some people find it easier to think when they are moving, so if you would prefer to take a walk in the winter sun and dictate your list onto your phone, that may work better for you.
If you are an artistic person you may find that a beautiful notebook and pen helps get you in the zone and allows you the freedom to doodle and sketch too.
What is a big thing to one person is less amazing to another so don’t think you have to look for major events or achievements. The little things matter just as much – if not more in some cases. And you make find them in some of your less positive experiences too. For example, ‘I remained professional when unfair demands were put on me at work,’ is a positive to be proud of even though the situation was negative. This process can help you reframe some of your ‘bad’ experiences too.
Try and avoid listing too many things that you have bought or own. While some objects which you have perhaps worked hard to buy or have deep sentimental value to you can make an appearance on the list, they shouldn’t be the focus of the list. It’s more important to include experiences, relationships, emotions, observations and events as these are within our control and more rewarding to our souls than ‘stuff’.