If you’re looking for an easy way to practice daily gratitude, making a list of things that you like can really shine a light on appreciation. My latest book, Go Ahead & Like It, describes this listing process as a method of building self-esteem, a way to create awareness, and a form of praise for the smallest details that make up the significant aspects of our lives. I write lists of things that I like nearly once a week. Often, it’s just an act of celebration, an expression of delight, and in other moments the lists can repair a bad mood or remind me to be thankful.
Is it hard to think of at least five things that you like? Or is the difficult commitment simply making the list itself? I often ask people to sit down at the typewriter and make a list on the spot. I’ve handed them colored sheets of paper and pencils so that they can try it out. At first, almost everyone hesitates. There’ll be the rare writer in the room who immediately fills the page, but for most people it’s a challenge. Don’t worry about momentary writer’s block—I have few tips to help the flow of likeability pour onto the page a bit faster.
The first thing I like to do when making a list of likes is to look at my surroundings. Is there a shadow carving out a beautiful shape on the wall? Is there a pretty bird perched on my windowsill? What did I eat for breakfast? Was it particularly good? Is my cat doing something that I enjoy? Often it’s the simple things that move me the most: The shadow is so unique and momentary. The bird is so still; She seems like a secret I get to witness. My breakfast was delicious not only because it tasted good, but also because it included homemade biscuits that my neighbor baked for me. My cat is a tiny creature that I take care of and his personality is comforting and funny. It all adds up. When I focus on these things by writing them down, or even just listing them in my mind, I feel a sense of thankfulness for my life as a mixture of all these valuable details that might appear mundane upon first glance.
If nothing moves you when you look around, try engaging your other senses. What can I feel that I like? What can I hear? What can I taste? What can I smell? I feel the soft wool of the socks I’m wearing. I see the bird. I hear the train blowing its horn. I taste the biscuits. I smell the jasmine in bloom. This sensory exercise can bring me into full awareness. Suddenly I feel saturated with joy and tapped into everything that I like about the world on a very base level.
Many times my lists fill up with memories. I think back on my childhood and find some vision that makes me smile. I let my mind wander into the past and recall images that I enjoy, likeable moments that I’d forgotten about, and as I let myself slip into this kind of reverie so many sweet aspects of the past come to the surface. For example, I like:
- My childhood dogs (all 20 of them).
- The garden that I planted in the dashboard of my first car.
- The photo of my father from his first trip to Paris when he was in college.
- That the last meal my grandma and I shared was mushroom and barely soup.
- How my grandma always gave me a slice of pumpernickel bread covered in chunks of butter as a snack.
I find myself following a timeline of memories in list format. Starting with an event or a faded recollection and then letting it unravel to explain my history. This can be a really powerful meditation. I get excited when I remember something new, like a gifted glimpse into what was, and so I celebrate this as a form of refreshing restoration.
I recommend approaching list-making with a balance of levity and severity. After all, the things that we like do shape our personalities, but these things also lighten a heavy mood or cause us to sigh with a feeling of gratitude. Just get specific, dig deep, follow your senses, mine your surroundings, and reach into your past. Let the tiniest aspects of your life come into focus one list at a time.
Photos reprinted from GO AHEAD & LIKE IT Copyright © 2014 by Jacqueline Suskin. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Shelby Duncan. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Erielle Laniewski. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Jacqueline Suskin is a writer, performance poet and artist based in Los Angeles. She is the author of two books, the latest entitled Go Ahead & Like It. Known for her ongoing work with a piece she calls “Poem Store,” Suskin composes on-demand poetry for customers who choose both a topic and a price in exchange for a unique verse. Suskin has been featured in the New York Times, T Magazine, LA Times, Time Out LA, among others, and has performed at events for various organizations including Art Basel, Los Angeles Contemporary, Art of Elysium and SF MOMA.