A Simple Habit That Increases Happiness

by | Feb 21, 2019


This morning I was grateful for:

  • A warm house on a cold morning (especially since such things did not exist for most of the history of our species)
  • The heat and taste of my coffee
  • The relationships and friendships I’ve developed with members of my YPO forum.

I know that I was grateful for these things because I recorded them in my gratitude journal. My morning routine includes a bit of meditation and gratitude journaling. For how to start habits like these and make them stick, check out this IFOD about Habit Stacking.

(A great gratitude journal app is the 5 Minute Journal – check it out here.)

Why do I take the time to journal about things for which I am grateful? Because when done regularly expressing gratitude increases one’s overall happiness and has other benefits. The benefits of practicing gratitude are so profound that if these benefits were from a pill we’d all be clamoring for a prescription.

Research by Robert Emmons of the University of California Davis has found that regularly practicing gratitude such as gratitude journaling leads to many benefits including:

• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated (this is a biggie, check out this IFOD)

Another researcher, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, found that writing letters of gratitude to other people greatly increased the happiness scores of the letter writers and such effects lasted for about a month.

A study from 2017 found that practicing gratitude lowered the incidence of depression in people with chronic illnesses.

Why does gratitude have these benefits? While the exact mechanisms are not known, there is likely an evolutionary explanation. Alex Wood of the London School of Economics looks to the seminal economist Adam Smith “who argued that society only works if we repay the aid that we get from other people, but since we have no legal or financial incentive to do so, we have evolved a sense of gratitude that makes us do it.”


  1. This seems like a good time to say Thanks for writing these IFODs, John. They’re always thought-provoking and occasionally inspiring.

  2. Another interesting and useful blog post John – thank you!


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