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The perfect, soothing year-end ritual for a chaotic 2020: Writing your own ‘best of’ lists

2020 lists
(Nuthawut Somsuk /Dreamstime/TNS)

From holiday cheer to winter coziness, December has lots to recommend it. But one of the month’s greatest pleasures may be the avalanche of ‘best of the year’ lists that fill every corner of the media.

Reading the rankings of experts and editors can remind you of some of the year’s most important moments, fill your to-read list with great suggestions, bolster your favorite playlists with missed gems, and help you check even the most difficult names off your holiday shopping list.

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But according to psychology, best of lists offer even greater benefits... if you write them yourself.

5 reasons making lists will make you happy

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A casual glance at any of your social media feeds is enough to show you that people love lists (as someone who writes for the internet for a living I can definitely confirm this). From top 10 sandwiches for a delicious lunch to 20 lessons you should have learned by 30, just about any topic becomes instantly more clickable if you package it as a list.

Why is that? Well, the internet of course, offers tons of lists to explain the phenomenon of lists, from the New Yorker’s “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists” to NPR’s “10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists.” They all make similar points:

  • Lists bring order to chaos. “Lists help us in organizing what is otherwise overwhelming,” David Wallechinsky, a co-author of the “Book of Lists,” tells NPR.
  • Lists work like memory aids. Just try to remember your grocery list and you’ll forget half of it, but write out a list and even if you forget it on your kitchen table, you’re likely to recall most of what you need. Backward-looking lists remind us of past events or resources we might otherwise have forgotten.
  • Lists are stress relieving. The field of everything you could do/read/watch/remember is infinite (and therefore stressful). Narrowing things down to a bulleted list soothes the agitation of looking at the limitless.
  • Lists are fun to argue about. ‘Are you crazy to put that movie at number three?’ ‘How could you possibly not include this title on your list?’ ‘Why on earth did you put X above Y?’ Arguments like these ensure there is a social component to the pleasure of list making as well.
  • Lists feel definitive. “Packaging information as a list gives us a sense that the list is all settled and this is the end of the matter,” points out the BBC in their list of reasons people like lists. Like the period at the end of a sentence, making a list is a way to mark the closing of an era.

So to summarize: lists help us feel in control in the midst of chaos, clear brain fog, connect with others who share our passions, reduce stress, and mark the end of a particular phase of life. That sounds like just about the perfect tool to end 2020 then.

What should you rank?

So don’t leave making lists to magazine and newspaper editors (though certainly enjoy their efforts). As Taryn Williford writes in Apartment Therapy, “making your own 2020 Best List is a great way to reflect on how and what you consume (in many ways) throughout the year. Identifying and documenting the things that you most enjoyed this year helps you reassess your priorities” so you can “make more room for what you really value, and give you clarity to skip (and save money on) the things you don’t.”

(c) 2020 Mansueto Ventures LLC; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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