My 2018 Gratitude Review — Reviewed

I’m a fairly reflective person. I don’t naturally immerse myself in my memories or past experiences without any cues but I do often consciously reflect on them — sometimes to work out whether I would do anything differently now, sometimes to consider how my life has changed since then and sometimes just to enjoy the memory. As 2018 came to close, I wanted a method for reflecting on the whole year which would cut a little deeper than this.

I had considered focusing on the things I accomplished — listing goals, successes and failures — but this felt very self-centred and administrative. I did get round to listening to all the music I had enjoyed in 2018 to mentally place myself back at the time I first enjoyed the songs (I find this to be the most effective way of reliving memories). This was certainly gratifying but felt quite detached from the people and events the music was associated with.

I decided instead to do a gratitude review of my year. I would think of all the things I was and am grateful for that happened to me in 2018. To do this, I went through my google calendar and noted down any event, experience or accomplishment I found valuable and tried to frame it as something I’m grateful for (e.g. “That party was fun > I’m really grateful X invited me to that party”). This took some time but, thankfully, I did maintain a good practice of adding most significant experiences into my calendar in 2018.

This had a noticeable effect on me. The simple process of recalling and reframing my experiences over the year gave me a fairly complete view of the year, brought back some wonderful memories and made me feel very grateful and happy for everything I’d done.

However, this had no effect on anyone else. Here I was, sat in the safe confines of my own consciousness reliving the memories I recorded myself, by myself. The second process I ran, however, was different in this vital respect.

After reading over this list of experiences for which I was grateful, it quickly became clear who I ought to be grateful for in 2018. Certain things just wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for certain people. Some of these were obvious — someone invited me on that holiday, someone else helped me achieve that goal — but others emerged as I reflected on the path to that experience or achievement.

In light of this, I started building a list of people I was grateful for in 2018. People to thank for helping me with something small, for offering valuable advice, for being part of a specific one-off experience, for hosting me, for entertaining me and some good friends for just being there for me all the time.

Then, I started getting in touch with all these people to actually tell them I was grateful. I told them what I was doing and why I was sending the message and then tried to spell out as succinctly as I could why I was grateful for what they did for me in 2018. Here’s a sample message (with some details taken out) where I thanked someone for hosting me whilst I was looking for a flat:

Hey [friend]! To conclude 2018, I’ve been doing a gratitude review of my year where I try to think of all the people I’m really grateful for and then actually telling them I’m grateful. So [friend], I’m super grateful that you hosted me in October :) It really, really helped me out and I actually had such a good time with you guys. Also grateful we got to hang out a bit more and hope we see more of each other in 2019!

(Feel free to steal the first sentence of this template if you want to do this!)

This process was immensely rewarding. Firstly, it made me appreciate just how many people had substantively affected my life in 2018 and the extent to which they did. I felt close with everyone involved from my closest friends to the acquaintances who shared just one piece of advice. It made it profoundly clear that the paths to all of my achievements this year involved so many other people advising, guiding and supporting me. I figure that I should keep this fact salient as I try to make progress on my goals this year.

Above all this, everyone I messaged seemed quite touched by the gesture, even though this wasn’t my explicit aim. Some people told me that my message almost moved them to tears (excuse the immodesty but this surprised me too). Most returned the favour, reciprocating gratitude or expressing how much they enjoyed the shared experience. One of the best outcomes came about when the person I messaged made a sincere offer to meet up again soon — I can think of at least three people who I’ve met up with recently on the back of the conversation initiated by a gratitude message.

One other surprising observation is that messages felt more valuable the more distant a person was to me. Many close friends naturally appreciated my words and I’ve no doubt that expressing gratitude cements an existing friendship but perhaps the messages came as less of a surprise. Those more distant to me often replied with equally emotive and heartfelt messages and expressed how the unexpected message significantly lifted their mood. This could be due to their surprise or maybe we tend to be more polite to people we don’t know so well. Perhaps I’m just underestimating how valuable a message of gratitude is to a close friend. Either way, this seems to be a valuable takeaway.

So, I had initially intended to review my 2018 in order to get a clearer picture of what I’d done, to securely store away valuable lessons and experiences and, essentially, to keep my memories to myself. Instead, I ended up sharing them. I’m very grateful that I did.

To recap, here’s a quick guide to doing a gratitude review:

  1. Go back over your calendar/diary/social media feed and pick out all of the highlights of your year/chosen time period
  2. Try to reframe each experience/achievement as something you’re grateful for (this should be possible for everything. Even entirely self-motivated projects tend to rely on something else existing such as your original source of inspiration, the tools you used or the place you did it in)
  3. Identify who you’re grateful for — Who made each experience possible? Who helped you accomplish that? Who advised you?
  4. Tell them you’re grateful. Using something similar to the template above, just get in touch and state as clearly as you can what you came up with.

To close, enjoy a lovely, wholesome meme about gratitude.

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