Gratefulness: The key to true success and happiness

By Dr. Michael Jacobson, D.O., M.P.H., CHM Medical Director

*Editor’s note: This information was published in the November 2021 issue of Heartfelt Magazine, CHM’s monthly magazine that provides CHM membership-related tips and tricks, medical advice from doctors, testimonies from CHM members, and more. Please refer to the CHM Guidelines and applicable web pages for the most up-to-date information regarding CHM membership, sharing eligibility, and ministry news.*

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that gratitude is essential to life—and health. That was reinforced recently when my son showed our family a 2011 TED Talk by Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist, who presented research suggesting that success in life comes from happiness and not the reverse.

Humans have a natural tendency to believe, “If only X were true, I would be happy.” That means every time a goal is achieved, another human tendency kicks in: We “raise the bar” on our expectations. As a result, we never experience true, sustained satisfaction. Dr. Achor explained that only 10 percent of our happiness is determined by our circumstances. He says, “90% of your happiness is not predicted by your external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.”

How do you change the way your brain processes your external world? Dr. Achor introduced a ritual that, if practiced for two minutes each day for 21 days, would “rewire” our brains for happiness. That ritual involves five simple disciplines:

  1. Gratitude: Write down three new things from the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful. This transforms our habit of noticing the negative in the world and builds a pattern in our minds of watching first for the positive.
  2. Journal one positive experience from the previous 24 hours. This allows our brains to relive and benefit again from that experience.
  3. Meditation forces the brain out of our “cultural ADHD” and trains it to focus on a single thing.
  4. Exercise trains the brain that behavior matters.
  5. Kindness: Express gratitude or affirmation for one person within your social support network.

While some might dismiss the above as positive psychology, it has a strong biblical basis. I can personally attest to the efficacy of this daily ritual.



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