“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah Winfrey

We recently talked about toxic positivity, which is the pushback to the ultra-positive mantras that have taken over social media. While some people may find comments such as “don’t complain, other people have it worse” to be helpful, encouraging, or uplifting, others will probably feel like their feelings are not validated. As important as it is to strive for happiness daily, we need to remember that we have a complex and diverse set of emotions and feelings that we experience in a day.

Before we get too far, let’s start by saying that positive reminders have their place. We believe that having a positive mantra can help us to gain perspective on a situation, or even aid us in regulating our emotions if we can’t express them at the time (such as when we are at work or school). Striving for happiness in our lives isn’t an unrealistic or unhealthy goal. On the contrary, our happiness can be the foundation for our dreams, aspirations, and goals, which in turn, give us something to work towards. But we need to realize that other feelings are going to pop up as well, and we have to be able to process them safely and healthily.

Our emotions and our feelings are very complex, with a ton of contributing factors that directly impact our mental wellness on any given day. Masking negative emotions with positive feelings can result in us failing to address the issue. When our bottled-up feelings and emotions eventually release, they’re not always done so in a healthy manner, and can even project onto an unrelated event.

Also read: The Dangers of Toxic Positivity

Daily gratitude practices, on the other hand, can act as a pushback to toxic positivity, without falling victim to pessimism. Gratitude practices allow us to prioritize the things we are grateful for in a healthy and structured proactive setting, as opposed to a reactive measure when things are difficult.

The more we think about and focus on something, the more we believe it, which is why our thoughts matter so much. Have you ever found yourself thinking about something, only to become more aware of it? Maybe you’ve purchased a new car and begin to see the same car at every stoplight? Or maybe, you think that there is something wrong with you, so you start to see all of your flaws in the mirror? That is because our brain creates more of what we’re thinking. So when we spend more of our time focusing on the things that we’re grateful for, the better equipped we will be to work through and process more difficult times.

Think about it this way: gratitude practices give us a strong foundation to work through the not-so-great things that may happen, as opposed to solely using positivity as a method of masking negativity. When we are used to looking for the good in our lives, we will hopefully be able to reduce our guilt when a negative emotion or feeling pops up to work through them healthily.

7 Daily Gratitude Practices

1. Journal

Journaling can be a great tool to formulate your thoughts and work through your emotions. If you’re stuck on where to begin, make bullet point notes of what you are grateful for. This can be anything from one line each day in your day planner to a whole page in a notebook. Make sure you do not judge yourself for how big or little the things on your list are – if it is something you are grateful for, then it is important, end of story.

Try this template: “I am grateful for _______ because _______”

Example: “I am grateful for being able to visit my friends on the weekend because I’ve missed seeing them during the lockdown”, or “I am grateful that I filled up my car on my way home yesterday because it saved me a trip to the gas station this morning.”

If you’re totally new to the world of gratitude journals, try out this free, printable one!

2. Give thanks

From a young age, we learn the importance of manners, and we quickly begin to say please and thank you like it’s second nature. But sometimes, life can get busy, and it can be so easy to go through the motions, as opposed to diving into why we are thanking someone. An easy way to look at this is to attach a why next time you thank someone.

Example: instead of just saying, “Thanks for filling up my car,” try adding in a reason, such as: “Thank you for filling up my car for me. By crossing that off of my to-do list, it has taken so much stress off of my busy day.”

3. Enjoy the slower moments of life

John Lennon once sang, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It can be so easy to get caught up in the “one day’s” and the “some days,” and to find ourselves saying things such as “I’ll be happy when I _____ (buy a house/graduate/get married/etc.).” Now, we should mention that having things to look forward to is super important as they give us something to work towards. However, the problem arises when we begin living for these moments and start ignoring the time between. Take time to find beauty in the slower moments of life (the time between the trips and the major life events), too. To enjoy your morning coffee as the sun comes up, or your Tuesday night dinner with your family. These are the moments that will make up most of your life, so make sure you soak them up.

4. Recite affirmations

As we said earlier, the more we think about something, the more we believe it to be true. Reciting positive affirmations can be a useful tool for replacing reoccurring negative thought patterns with positive ones. Not all positivity is toxic, and not all negativity is needed to work through situations. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to remind ourselves of our worth regularly.

Example: Change “When I lose weight, I will be happy” to “My happiness and worth is not tied to any number on the scale.”

5. Help out those in need

Sometimes we get so fixated on all of the things we don’t have (such as a bigger house, a newer car, etc.) that we fail to acknowledge all of the things we do have. Take time to help out others: this could involve donating an old winter jacket to your local shelter, volunteering your time to an organization you believe in, or donating your money to an important cause. There are tons of ways you can help out those in need, starting in your community.

6. Recognize what you love

It can be easy to focus our attention on all of the things we don’t like doing in a day (such as doing laundry, a busy commute, or filling up the car), as opposed to the things that we enjoy. Take a moment to recognize what it is you love about your day, and attach a reason to it. 

Example: “I love practicing yoga in the evenings because it helps me to connect my mind, body, and spirit,” or “I love BBQing because I’m able to get creative with the foods I cook.”

7. Be kind to yourself & others

The best and easiest way to practice gratitude daily is through kindness: kindness to yourself, and kindness to others. Every single person you meet in a day is going through something: some people may be going through one of the best seasons of their lives, while other people may be entering into one of the darkest. The absolute best thing you can do is to be kind to everybody. Be kind to the store employees, be kind to somebody who makes a mistake, and be kind to yourself. You’ll never know everybody’s story, so treat them the way you wish to be treated.