What's Tony Thinking

The Gratitude List and New Year’s Resolutions


About five years ago I started the practice of doing a daily written gratitude list of at least ten items. I usually sit down in the early evening, often with a glass of red wine (“the first duty of a wine is to be red,” as you may have heard me say), and write out today’s gratitude list in my current “gratitude journal.”

Perhaps it sounds hokey or contrived, but what I can say for sure is that I have kept it up, and without any gritting of the teeth or sense of “I should do this.” I do it. I enjoy it. Some days it’s easy. Other days, not so much. Occasionally, I miss a day.

It’s a sort of Ph balance thing. Remember the acids and bases? Life can make you acidic at times. You focus on the deficits, on things you’ve done wrong, or on the way the world is screwed up. Too much of that and your personal Ph is out of balance quickly. A gratitude list adds corrective bases, keeping the acids in balance.

Every day there are things on my list that are unique to that day — an especially beautiful sunset, something I got done or experienced. And most days there are things that appear every day, my gratitude for good health, my family, my wife.

Given this practice I was interested in a recent essay on what enables people to keep those New Year’s Resolutions. The author argues that determination, self-control and strength of will aren’t all that effective in helping people make and keep new habits. What matters are gratitude, compassion and an appropriate pride in one’s accomplishments (as distinct from pride that is arrogance or judgmental toward others).

This makes sense to me. Strength of will and pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps resolve do tend to diminish over time. With New Year’s Resolutions such erosion apparently takes about a week for most people. Gratitude, compassion and good pride, tend to enrich the soil of our soul with positives from which other positives can flourish.

At summer’s end I found that I had put on about ten pounds. It was the red wine! Along with the ribs, burgers and soft-ice cream. Anyhow, I decided I would like to not be carrying that extra weight around, so I contacted a friend who works as a coach for a program that is focused on health and weight loss, in that order.

I adopted his program in its basic form for three weeks and then in a modified form for another three. The upshot was that I weigh twenty pounds less. And I’m optimistic about maintaining that because the program included some changes in how, and when, I eat that are helpful.

In that experience, I do think keeping my gratitude list, staying connected with my friend and “coach,” as well as several other friends who had benefited from this approach, and taking pride in my accomplishments, helped make it a go.

We don’t make changes by beating ourselves up. We make changes by revising our habits, affirming ourselves, and extending compassion and affirmation to others on their journey.

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