Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Ditch the gratitude apps: why positive thinking is outdated


Best-selling author and state of mind and performance expert Chantal Burns explains why being fulfilled and successful is easier than we think

It’s fair to say that human beings strive to live happy and successful lives and there’s plenty available to help us achieve this.

Thousands of blogs and books abound, promising the answer to success, motivation and happiness. One of the best examples is the ‘positive thinking’ movement, which has gained huge popularity over the years. The premise - if we think more positively, it will attract abundance and happiness into our lives. 

The new ‘positivity’ kid on the block is gratitude, which has become the modern answer to peace of mind and fulfillment. The idea is that if we practice an attitude of gratitude, then we will feel good and make other people feel good too.

This idea has spurned a market full of gratitude journals, apps and other tools to encourage us out of our negativity and anxiety. I was keen to find out whether journaling the ‘three things you’re grateful for’ each day would change my life (as promised) so I downloaded an app.

Mobile App

'Gratitude apps' are becoming popular

Day 1 - I posted a photo of me and Mum having lunch together. Then I uploaded a photo of a gorgeous rose from my garden. And by the time I added the third post, I was definitely in a nice feeling. Day 2 was okay, but I struggled to find my third thing, which left me feeling like a gratitude failure. How could I have so much and yet be unable to find just one more thing to be grateful for?

Each day, the app would bleep to remind me that it was time to be grateful. By Friday, I’d developed an allergic reaction to that sound. By Saturday, ‘three things to be grateful for’ had gone to app heaven. What should have made me feel good had the very opposite effect. And there’s only one reason for that.

Being content, motivated or happy is not about forcing ourselves to think more positively. Feeling content or motivated is what we naturally experience when our minds are free and unburdened. And a free mind is readily available when we understand where our feelings are coming from. Let me explain.

Most people agree that their state of mind is crucial for performing well at work. But in my research, when I asked people what most influences their state of mind, I got a raft of reasons including workload, other people, journey to work or finances. And ‘my own thinking/mindset’ was very low down on that list when it should be the only thing on the list. Whilst it seems like there are a multitude of things that affect our state of mind, thankfully this isn't how it works. It’s our innocent misunderstanding that creates many of the problems we encounter.


People cite their journey to work as affecting their state of mind

The simple yet profound truth is that our thinking creates our entire experience of life and this explains why we can all have different experiences about the exact same situation or person. Only thought can determine our perceptions and how we feel. That’s why I was able to enjoy my gratitude app for a couple of days and then utterly despise it for the remainder of the week. And that’s why you’re able to feel content and loving towards someone in one moment and feel irritated or indifferent a few moments later without them changing.

Feelings of gratitude, happiness, confidence and fulfillment are an inside job. They don't come from gratitude journals, sunny days or a new car. They can only ever come from the thoughts you are having about the journal, the weather or the car. And this is great news because it means that we’re far more empowered than we think we are.

Our lives will always be a direct reflection of our own state of mind in any given moment, created by how we are thinking and feeling. That’s why life can seem beautiful one moment and awful in the next, even though the external conditions of your life are the same. It explains why I could sit on a perfect beach with perfect white sand and cry for two weeks. I went there to escape my sadness only to realise that the beach and blue sky had no bearing on my state of mind unless I thought it did.


A holiday in paradise only improves your state of mind if you let it

Our experience of life only works one way. But when we believe that something other than our own thoughts can make us feel a particular way, it will give us plenty to think about, filling our minds with unnecessary concerns and worries. It creates insecurity or dependency because we believe that we are somehow at the mercy of all these external factors. This then creates a false filter through which we view life.

When you realise in the moment that how you feel cannot be governed by the past, other people or life circumstances, it will instantly free your mind, generating a more optimistic or hopeful feeling. You’ll automatically regain your bearings and perspective. Your state of mind is like the weather. Like clouds, your feelings are a temporary experience of your own thoughts. And our thoughts have no inherent power over us unless we give them power.

The answer to a successful and happy life is not to force ourselves to think more positively or be more grateful. It’s far simpler and easier than that. All we require is some understanding of how thought works. This will give you everything you need to live a more inspiring, meaningful and ultimately satisfying life.

Chantal Burns is a state of mind and performance expert. Her bestselling book Instant Motivation: The Surprising Truth Behind What Really Drives Top Performance is WHSmith’s Non-Fiction Book of the Month. Click here to buy

Chantal Burns

Chantal Burns is a bestselling author and performance expert



Should you quit your unsatisfying job? Questions to help you decide


One way to ace an interview and ten body language mistakes to avoid


Six ways to tackle difficult and unreasonable people


Seven ways of turning self-criticism into self-acceptance and love


How to argue productively and resolve conflict well


Global survey reveals the happiest places in the world


The best possible gifts for when flowers aren’t going to cut it

17 unusual and thoughtful gifts for when the s**t hits the fan

by Amy Swales
22 Sep 2017

This Battle of the Sexes legend wants you to STOP asking about McEnroe

“I would like to see John McEnroe win a Grand Slam tournament while pregnant”

by Susan Devaney
22 Sep 2017

“The real reason we should all be upset about Uber”

Grow up: your bank balance really isn’t what’s at stake here

by Kayleigh Dray
22 Sep 2017

There's a huge sherbet fountain coming to London - and it's free

Bompas & Parr are planning a weird, wonderful and nostalgia-filled event

by Helen Brown
22 Sep 2017

Rick and Morty creator responds to sexist trolling of female writers

The show hired four women. Cue cries of “Worst. Episodes. Evah.”

by Amy Swales
22 Sep 2017

Everything you need to know about Uber being banned in London

The taxi firm has had its license revoked by TfL

by Moya Crockett
22 Sep 2017

The new Baileys flavour you’ll want to drink well beyond Halloween

Perfect autumn cocktails ahead

by Amy Swales
22 Sep 2017

This unexpected town has been voted the best place to work in the UK

We didn’t see this one coming

by Moya Crockett
22 Sep 2017

Harry Potter fans, this epic Hogwarts goblet is actually magical

It's perfect for Butterbeer (or prosecco)

by Megan Murray
22 Sep 2017

The hidden meanings behind the nation’s most popular baby names

Prepare for lots of girls’ names ending in ‘a’

by Moya Crockett
22 Sep 2017