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Is Your Gratitude Practice Toxic? 3 Alternatives to Gratitude Journals

Rebecca has been studying manifestation and the law of attraction for more than five years. She now serves as a coach for others.

Keeping a gratitude journal may actually be making you more depressed. Here are three alternatives to keeping a gratitude journal which may help to increase happiness and productivity.

Keeping a gratitude journal may actually be making you more depressed. Here are three alternatives to keeping a gratitude journal which may help to increase happiness and productivity.

Gratitude Journal Alternatives

The practice of gratitude journaling has soared in popularity. Some students of human psychology encourage this practice because a habit of gratitude helps to improve mood and set the day right. Masters in the Law of Attraction and manifesting believe we attract more of what we're grateful for, and therefore we should maintain a high vibration by expressing our gratitude.

As both a student of psychology and a student of the Law of Attraction, I've spent years devoted to the practice of gratitude journaling, and it wasn't until I found myself resenting the time I spent with my journal that I looked into the ways this practice can actually be harmful.

What Is a Gratitude Journal?

A gratitude journal is a journal in which you write down things for which you are grateful. It can be a simple notebook, an app on your phone, or a guided journal such as the 6-Minute Diary (my favorite if you choose to keep a gratitude journal, though I've tried others).

The experts (psychologists supporting this practice and self-help gurus) encourage journalists to write down three things each morning for which they are grateful. Guided gratitude journals often suggest writing down three great things which happened during that day in the evening, as well. It can also be helpful to note ways in which you could improve or acts of kindness you performed that day.

The idea behind this practice is that it creates a habit of happiness. If you write down three things each morning for which you are grateful, you are "re-training" your brain to be happy. By focusing on gratitude, you're making a habit of being grateful.

Is Gratitude a Bad Thing?

No, gratitude is not a bad thing, and the experts mostly have it right. By creating a habit of gratitude, you're making happiness (gratitude) your default setting. It is possible, according to some experts, to reprogram your brain to think (and therefore behave) differently.

The practice of writing down the things you're grateful for can even be healthy for many people (hence the reason it's so popular and there are so many variations on the guided gratitude journal).

Gratitude, when it is natural, unprompted, and genuine, can have a powerful effect on your mind, altering the physical properties of your brain and generating happy hormones.

Then What's the Problem?

There are a few problems with gratitude journals. You may have experienced some, all, or none of these issues in your own practice.

  • It gets repetitive after a while. After a few weeks of writing your gratitude down every day, you'll probably find yourself writing the same things day after day. Not only does this dilute the feeling of gratitude, but it can become frustrating trying to think of new reasons to be grateful.
  • It doesn't address negative emotions. Sometimes (like in the midst of a global pandemic) nothing seems to be going right. Sure, there are still things to be grateful for. But if you force gratitude during these difficult times, it can cause you to harbor your negative thoughts and not address them, blocking the flow of abundance.
  • It may cause us to suppress our emotions. Toxic positivity, in general, can cause a person to mask or suppress their negative emotions. This can lead to feelings of shame, obligation, and resentment. If you're practicing gratitude for the sake of improving your mood and relieving depression, it may have the opposite effect.

The experts who produce the guided journals are quick to describe the ways gratitude can boost mood, alleviate depression and lead to good feelings, but few sources (even on the internet) address the dark side of these journals.

Gratitude can shift the focus from what's happening in your life. Sometimes this is a great thing, but sometimes it means not addressing your real emotions. Get out of your head with these 3 alternatives to gratitude journaling.

Gratitude can shift the focus from what's happening in your life. Sometimes this is a great thing, but sometimes it means not addressing your real emotions. Get out of your head with these 3 alternatives to gratitude journaling.

Negative Emotions Are Valid, Too

The practice of toxic positivity teaches us to prioritize the emotions which make us happy. It makes sense, actually, that focusing on things we love when we're feeling blue will help us feel better.

The problem with this mentality is that it only puts a temporary bandage on a wound. Blocking negative emotions doesn't make them go away, it just saves them for later.

Moreover, focusing consciously on your gratitude and positive emotions only pushes your negative emotions into your subconscious, which is where the majority of your manifesting takes place. Many Law of Attraction gurus teach that you attract what you think about, but the majority of this work is done in the subconscious (the part of the brain which acts but doesn't think).

Ideally, you want the positive emotions in your subconscious while you address your negative emotions consciously and deliberately, either through therapy (talk therapy or CBT). In this way, you'll work on manifesting more of what's positive, while working through the negative emotions.

Gratitude JournalsUngratitude JournalsMorning PagesMiracle Moments

Morning Ritual

Morning Ritual

Morning Ritual

Throughout the Day

Come With a Set of Rules

You Make the Rules for Your Journal

No Rules, Just Stream of Consciousness

No Rules At All

Set the Tone for the Day

Clears Your Head for the Day

Clears Your Head for the Day

Shifts Your Mindset Throughout the Day

Alternative #1: Ungratitude Journal

The opposite of a gratitude journal, the ungratitude journal gives you a space in which to write down the things which are going wrong in your life.

This is especially useful if you're going through a difficult time, such as a period of unemployment, housing or food insecurity, or a divorce. It is more difficult than ever to be truly and realistically grateful for even the best things in your life during these toughest of times, and therefore it can be useful to make a list of everything that's going wrong.

Why It Works

This works because it gets the negative thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Writing is therapeutic, and it's known that writing about something which is bothering you can have the effect of getting it off your mind and relieving some of the pressure it builds up inside you.

Attempting to express or write gratitude during times of high stress or worry may not alleviate the stress you're experiencing, but writing about the stress can give you a sense of control over your situation. Admitting you're feeling poorly has the power to shift your perspective to changing what needs to be changed.

In addition, writing down the things which are going wrong in your life is the first step to recognizing the specifics of the problem and calculating a plan to defeat it. You can't solve a problem if you don't know what the problem is you're trying to solve!

Alternative #2: Morning Pages

Morning pages are three pages of longhand written each morning. This type of stream of consciousness writing permits the writer to relieve themselves of whatever is on their mind, first thing in the morning.

Done during the time most gratitude gurus suggest you write down three things you're grateful for, this "brain dump" is an alternative for those who experience resentment or frustration with early-morning gratitude.

Why It Works

Mental energy is drained throughout every day, and though sleep helps to rest our minds, we often wake up with a lot going on. Whether it's the plans for the day or our worries about how we're going to pay the bills or the argument we had with our child, these worries require energy.

When you write down the things that are on your mind (good, bad, and ugly), you move them from your subconscious mind through your conscious mind and onto the page. This shifts the focus from the things which have been bothering you and clears space for you to be more productive with your day.

While it may appear negative, this clears space for more positive energy to flow.

Alternative #3: Miracle Moments

Miracle Moments can happen at any point throughout your day and don't involve writing at all!

To employ miracle moments, keep something on your person which, when you touch it, will prompt you to remember the things you're grateful for. This could be a piece of jewelry or a stone (like a piece of quartz) that you carry in your pocket. It's best if it has some kind of personal meaning to you.

Whenever you touch your reminder, think of (or say aloud) three things for which you're grateful. The key is to not write them down.

Why This Works

These miracle moments change your perspective from whatever's bothering you to the good things in your life. While it's important not to avoid addressing your negative emotions, gratitude does promote happiness.

But how is this different from writing down three things you're grateful for every morning?

  • It doesn't give you a lot of time to think it through. The point is to think of three things quickly you're grateful for, love, or are happy about. Don't spend a lot of time dwelling on it. Think it, say it aloud, and shift it into your subconscious where it will manifest more things like it.
  • It doesn't move the gratitude from your conscious mind and out. Writing down what you're grateful for moves your thoughts through your conscious mind and onto the page. Speaking them aloud moves them from your conscious mind inward, to your subconscious mind.
  • It's a physical reminder you carry with you. Even if you take your gratitude journal (or planner) with you everywhere you go, it's not something you have attached to your body. Keeping a stone in your pocket or a piece of jewelry on your body is something which is always with you and a constant reminder to bring yourself back to gratitude.

Gabrielle Bernstein talks about Miracle Moments in her books. While she emphasizes gratitude to an extent which may be unhealthy for some people, many will benefit from working through the 42 days of May Cause Miracles.

Gratitude can be a healthy practice as long as it's used in a way which is balanced with expressing and experiencing your negative emotions as well.

Gratitude can be a healthy practice as long as it's used in a way which is balanced with expressing and experiencing your negative emotions as well.

How to Practice Healthy Gratitude

Gratitude is healthy if it's balanced. If your gratitude is making you feel resentful, angry, or depressed, then it's time to look into the alternatives. This doesn't mean that gratitude won't have a positive impact on your life! It only means it ought to be balanced.

Along with the alternatives to a toxic gratitude practice, consider incorporating the following ideas into your daily life.

  • Be mindful of what you're grateful for. Don't pay lip service to gratitude. (This is easily done when you're struggling to come up with three different things every morning for six months!) Mean it when you say it, and only say it when you really mean it. This isn't like the used perfume Great Aunt Laura gave you for your tenth birthday. Be real with yourself.
  • Look around you for things you really love. If there's something in your life you can't imagine that life without, that's something to be grateful for. Close your eyes, breathe for a moment, and focus on how having that in your life makes you feel. It could be the sunshine on your face or the food in your belly. Really feel it. Deeply.
  • Thank other people who you love or who make you happy. One method of practicing gratitude is to write thank-you notes to the people in your life, including those who serve you. You might not love the mail person (at least not in a personal way) but remembering to say thank you to them will not only make them feel great but you as well.

How Gratitude Made Me Depressed

I've battled with depression for most of my life, and I was excited when I first discovered the 5-Minute Journal. I expected that within 90 days, my life would be changed significantly by the practice of gratitude.

What I found, instead, was that I struggled to come up with things I was grateful for. This journal (in contrast with the 6-Minute Diary mentioned at the beginning of this article) suggested that users be creative with their gratitude, come up with three unique things every day and do their best not to repeat them.

After about three weeks, I ran out of things for which I was grateful. I'd written everything from the air conditioning which kept my family cool to the food on our table to the air I breathed. I had run out of ideas for things to be grateful for.

As the book suggests, I also wrote down the reasons I was grateful for these things. I journaled first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I worked that journal as hard as I possibly could.

And I started to hate it. On the bad days when we struggled with bills, on the worse days when my husband was out of work, it was hard to feel gratitude deeply enough to be meaningful. I started to resent the practice, and after just over 90 days, I stopped using it.

Later, I tried the 6-Minute Diary with greater success (thanks to the beliefs of its creators), but I ran into the same problem.

I was most grateful when I was experiencing the world, not sitting in my bedroom at five in the morning trying to come up with three things I was grateful for (often after a rough night of sleep).

This led me to be disappointed in myself, then ashamed that I couldn't get it right, then to feel stupid because I didn't seem to understand gratitude, then angry because this apparently worked for other people, but not for me.

If gratitude doesn't work for you, you are not alone!

When I changed my practice and started working through Gabrielle Bernstein's May Cause Miracles I began to see the real shifts in my life. Not only was I happier, but things began to happen in my life—things I wanted to happen.

Gratitude is still part of my daily practice, but I put less pressure on myself to do it the way somebody else wants me to do it, and focus instead on doing what works best for me. Now I mostly use Miracle Moments throughout my day to shift my attitude from fear to love.

What Is Your Experience With Gratitude Journals?

If you've used a gratitude journal, what was your experience with using it? How did it affect your mood (for better or for worse)?

Have you tried any alternatives to gratitude journaling? What were they, and what was your experience with them?

Please share in the comments!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Rebecca Rizzuti