The Art of Gratitude, One List at a Time

Appreciate the good and live better.

About ten years ago I met Otto. Within the first week of our budding friendship he passed me a note. I opened it and read a simple list of things that he liked. I was overwhelmed with appreciation, I felt a joyous sense of connection, and I felt inspired to make a list of my own in return. What a way to get to know someone! How refreshing for him to lead with his likes and not his dislikes.

I often find that it’s easy to focus on the downside in everyday life. It’s common to hear someone complain, to tell a friend what bothered us about a film or an album, to turn away from something because we dislike a certain aspect of it. We often forget to lead with the positive and we habitually connect by bellyaching together. When we focus only on the terrible and annoying aspects of our world, we put ourselves in a cycle of opposition, we say no, and with a dismissive attitude we miss out on so much light. With Otto’s list, I felt him say yes, a resounding positive, and I was hooked.

I now write my own lists to combat negativity and to remember that the tiny things are usually the things that add radiant meaning to the larger picture. For me, the practice became a meditative ritual and a writing exercise that changes my mindset when I’m feeling stuck.

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My most recent book, Go Ahead & Like It, explores this practice. I realized that if these lists were so helpful for me over the years, then the process would most likely be beneficial for others. Go Ahead & Like It is a how-to guide and a self-help book for people who desire a creative approach to looking on the bright side. Thus, it’s a practice suited for yogis and the yogi-community. I imagine someone already tuned into the importance of self-reflection will be able to tap into the core of this process and bring a new level of enthusiasm to list making.

When I make a list, I first look at my surroundings, or dig into my memories, and start writing down everything that feels significant. For people who want to access the sacred aspects of the everyday—for people who yearn to discover and celebrate the endless offerings that life provides—this practice serves as another log to put onto your already-burning fire. I consider gratitude a skill that requires work. Documenting the things that we like, the things that inspire us, further helps us stay grounded in appreciation.

We can write a simple list of things that we enjoy and suddenly our role as observer comes into focus. We start to take note of specifics and suddenly our lives seem rich, overflowing with infinite delight. My favorite time to make a list is when I’m stuck in some seemingly awful situation. The example I like to use most is the traffic jam. What is there to like about this moment, crawling along with hundreds of other vehicles, stuck, wasting time? This is when I look around and make a mental list:

  1. The car beside me is such a beautiful shade of turquoise
  2. The air conditioning in my car works so well
  3. The song on the radio is pleasing
  4. My socks feel really soft inside my shoes
  5. The vines growing on the side of the cement embankment are really beautiful…

What a relief! I’m encompassed by splendor! This traffic jam isn’t so bad after all! See how it works?

As a poet, my entire craft revolves around noticing the smallest bits of beauty that make this world special. I aim to write them down and share them with my readers. In the same poetic way, I hope list making allows for a deeper personal connection to uplifting aspects that one might usually overlook.

So grab a pen and paper and start to focus on the tiny facets that enrich your perspective. Take a peek at my book and in the following weeks I’ll offer up more instruction to deepen the practice. I like imagining the first list someone makes. Try to start with just five things and see what opens up.

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 SuskinJacqueline 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.