Health

TikTok's 'What I Like About People' Trend Is Like a Gratitude Journal, But For Humanity

By describing redeeming (if not obscure and minuscule) qualities of human beings, the videos are finding gratitude in taxing times.
December 8, 2020, 12:00pm
Two people on tiktok share the things they think are cute about people.
Screenshot from TikTok: @qxnik and @monkeypants25

In a TikTok video with over 850,000 likes, @peachprc offers a simple yet poignant perspective on the nature of man: "Ok humans are shitty but they're also so fucking adorable," she said, then described how endearing it is that people give jewelry to others. "We're like 'Oh, a little gem for you.' It's so cute. We decorate the people that we like."

This positive lens on human behavior has become a TikTok trend, filed under the hashtags #whatilikeaboutpeople or #cutethingspeopledo, and similar variations. People list all of the small, inconsequential parts of daily behavior and life that usually go unnoticed, but are charming when we pause to notice them.  

@bradynedwards likes when people "open a birthday card and money falls out and they keep reading, pretending they didn't see the money." Or, "when people keep messing up a word, and then they finally get it, and they're like... relieved."

@qxnik likes when several people react to a bug at the same time. "They're all just like ducking and weaving at the same time? I think that's cute as shit." Also when "two people's legs are jiggling up and down at the same speed."

By seeking to pinpoint redeeming (if not obscure and minuscule) qualities of human beings, these videos can end up acting as a kind of gratitude journal, but for the world at large—a much needed salve if you find your opinion of humanity wavering these days. 

We're often told that practicing gratitude is a good thing, no matter how tacky it can feel. 

And countless research has shown the benefits of the simple task of expressing what you're grateful for. In one study, Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami randomly assigned people to three groups. Some were asked to list out what they were grateful for, some to list out what that irritated them, and a third group wrote about any events that affected them in the past week, good or bad. The people in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole at the end of the study, experienced more optimism, and exercised more. Studies have also found a connection between expressing gratitude and parts of the brain associated with social bonding, reward and stress relief. 

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"Gratitude journals are at the extreme end of the cheesiness continuum, but the studies are hard to refute," wrote journalist Oliver Burkeman in his book, HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done. 

A comment on @peachprc's video summed up many of the responses that these videos garner, which reflect a similar outcome: "No pressure but pls continue this list because i haven't felt this happy about existence in a long time."

Gratitude can feel hard to come by in taxing times. People have lost their jobs, their everyday habits and routines, and their family members to COVID-19. They’ve had political differences tear through normally placid relationships. Practicing gratitude can feel like a false endeavor in a world that feels so broken. 

Yet it's just the fact that the world at large feels so terrible that a "what I like about people" video is so timely. Instead of individualizing gratitude—asking what do you like about your life—it challenges you to be grateful about others, or humankind on the whole. And when other people do the work of listing out their own favorite things about people, it provides easy access to a modicum of gratitude.  

Then, instead of looking out into the world and seeing those who refuse to wear masks, or who continue to uphold systemic injustices in various ways, it might help us remember and feel grateful for the "people who point things out in nature to strangers like a rainbow or bird" or "when people leaving a room automatically flip off the light switch out of reflex but then realize there's someone there and have to quickly flip it back on."

Or the people that @Gracentalks mentioned, who hand her a business card with two fingers or are compelled to take a rock home from the beach. @monkeypants25 covets so many micro-qualities in others that she talked in her video at superspeed. She likes "when people show up to class with their hair still wet," "adults who wear rain boots still especially bright ones like red or yellow,” and people who call their mom "mom" to their friends so instead of saying "my mom" they'll be like "oh yeah mom's gonna pick us up." 

Practicing gratitude doesn't mean being grateful for all the things or people in the world that need to be changed and improved. It's not a nudge towards "toxic positivity," or decreeing that all humans are good and cute now. The goal is not to forgive everyone for all of their many sins, but to appreciate the little things that make some people, including ourselves, cute and strange organisms that we are in the trenches with. 

Follow Shayla Love on Twitter.