The art of gratitude, one list at a time

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

I often find it easy to focus on the inconveniences of everyday life. It’s common to hear someone complain, tell a friend what’s bothering us about a movie or an album, move away from something because we dislike a certain aspect. We often forget to lead with the positive and usually connect by doing gymnastics. 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 an attitude of contempt we lose so much light. With Otto’s list, I heard him say yes, a resounding positive, and I got hooked.

Now I write my own lists to combat negativity and remember that small things are usually the ones that add a radiant meaning to the bigger picture. For me, the practice became a meditative ritual and a writing exercise that changes my mindset when I feel trapped.

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My most recent book, Go ahead and like it, explore this practice. I realized that if these lists were so useful to me over the years, the process would probably be beneficial to others. Go ahead and I like it is a handy guide and self-help book for people who want a creative approach to looking the good side. Therefore, it is a good practice for yogis and the yogi community. I imagine that someone already attuned to the importance of self-reflection will be able to take advantage of the core of this process and bring a new level of enthusiasm to list creation.

When I make a list, I first look at my surroundings, or look in my memories and start writing down everything that seems meaningful to me. For people who want to access the sacred aspects of everyday life, for people who yearn to discover and celebrate the endless offerings that life offers, this practice serves as another record to put on your already burning fire. I consider gratitude a skill that requires work. Documenting the things we like, the things that inspire us, helps us even more to stay in appreciation.

We can write a simple list of things we like, and all of a sudden, our role as an observer becomes apparent. We begin to take note of the details, and suddenly our lives seem rich, overflowing with infinite pleasure. My favorite time to make a list is when I find myself in a seemingly awful situation. My favorite example is bottling. What do you like about this moment, crawling with hundreds of other vehicles, stuck, wasting time? That’s when I look around and make a mental list:

  1. The car next to me is so beautiful turquoise
  2. The air conditioning in my car works great
  3. The radio song is nice
  4. My socks feel very soft inside my shoes
  5. The vines that grow next to the cement embankment are really beautiful …

What a relief! I am surrounded by splendor! This traffic jam is not so bad after all! See how it works?

As a poet, my whole craft revolves around noticing the smallest pieces of beauty that make this world special. The goal is to write and share them with my readers. In the same poetic way, I hope that making lists allows for a deeper personal connection with uplifting aspects that can normally be overlooked.

So grab some paper and pen and start focusing on the little facets that enrich your perspective. Take a look at my book and in the coming weeks I will offer more instructions to deepen the practice. I like to imagine the first list someone makes. Try to start with just five things and see what opens up.

Reprinted photos by GO AHEAD & LIKE IT Copyright © 2014 by Jacqueline Suskin. Photograph Copyright © 2014 by Shelby Duncan. Copyright © 2014 by Erielle Laniewski. Published by Ten Speed ​​Press, a footprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Jacqueline SuskinJacqueline Suskin is a Los Angeles-based writer, performance poet, and artist. She is the author of two books, the last one entitled Go ahead and I like it. Known for her constant work with a piece called “Poem Shop,” Suskin composes poetry on demand for customers who choose both a theme and a price in exchange for a single verse. Suskin has appeared in New York Times, T Magazine, LA Times, Time Out LA, among others, and has performed at events for various organizations such as Art Basel, Los Angeles Contemporary, Art of Elysium and SF MOMA.

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