Your happiness is intertwined with your outlook on life.
This is the message cocooned inside a fortune cookie I opened the other evening after dinner at a family birthday party.
It brought to mind a conversation I had with a colleague several years ago, in which we pondered the age-old glass-half-full-glass-half-empty question. My colleague is a clear example of a half-full individual, which she readily acknowledged. My own delayed response suggested candidacy in the half-empty category, the club to which folks don’t typically wish to admit membership. I said I thought I was positive-of-center on the full-empty continuum.
We disagreed about whether there are levels of intensity around perspective (I favor the continuum concept, while she argued that there is no Mr. In Between on the general outlook on life). The conversation ended with her recollection of the old joke that the glass-half-full-glass-half-empty question misses the point, since the truth, actually, is that the glass is just too big.
“We see what we want to see. Our perceptions fly straight our of our deepest needs …” Alice Flett Darwin, in The Stone Diaries
What little hitchhikers we pick up on the journey to that world view is a question for another time. But the fortune cookie message caught my attention for another reason – a homemade holiday gift from a friend.
It is a standard glass jar bearing a label with the hand-written words, “Happy New Year Notes!” and a lid topped with a pale pink fabric flower. This was accompanied by one set each of pink and blue flower-shaped post-it notes. Directions: each day, record a thought, memory, or experience that is a source of happiness. Insert in jar. Do this throughout the calendar year.
I began writing the following day, dropping thoughts and recollections into the jar. Six months later, an accordion stack of joy-oriented notes now takes up a quarter of the space. The initial supply of post-it notes has been depleted and replenished with another set of rosebud notes given to me by another friend.
I found myself writing early in the morning, before leaving the house for work, and first thing in the morning on weekends. A daily ritual was born.
The notes bear recollections of recent events or interactions that are pleasant, humorous, celebratory, or deeply joyful. Sometimes they document small successes and accomplishments, or sources of gratitude.
Admittedly, though, some days prove more difficult than others to come up with something positive to record. On those days I have to stop and take more time to consider what has been happening. There were times that I’ve written about just being thankful that the sun was out or the snow was melting. It was on these days, interestingly, that I wrote about my gladness for someone else’s success or good fortune. Nothing like taking a step out of your own world.
This daily recording is unlike a standard diary or journal. It is not a summary of the day’s events, a stream of consciousness, or my wrestling with a challenge or stressful situation. I am documenting positive, hopeful thoughts and experiences exclusively.
This is not to say that poop isn’t happening. There is plenty of that for the reckoning. But that is not the purpose of The Jar.
Within the first week or so of writing, I found myself looking forward to this morning ritual. As time went on, I sensed that my thoughts were already turning to more positive, optimistic focal points.
The value of this exercise, really, is in its simplicity. That simplicity, though, is deceptively powerful. I must convey succinctly whatever is on my mind — the 3″ X 3″ dimensions of the post-it notes require that (excellent practice for those of us for whom brevity is not a strong suit). It is a conscious act, with a built-in daily deadline.
This wee bit of daily recollection has influenced my perspective on the role of choice in our lives. The writing is a way of taking personal responsibility, of actively seeking alternate ways of reflecting on life, circumstances, and experiences. This gives a nice little nod to the possibility of change. I don’t mean that The Jar has changed my life. Nor has it changed my overall demeanor, as far as I know. But it has certainly made me think differently. The Jar encourages greater reflection, and balancing that reflection with the inevitable bumps the universe mines. It is proof that there are a kabillion joyful things to acknowledge and record. Probably a bazillion.
The glass-half-full-half-empty question is intended to get at our prism on the world. But I think it really seeks to answer how we manage the poop – how we tolerate disappointment, cope with loss, manage crisis — with the brief shot we’re given to practice that. My own spin on this question: it’s what’s in the glass that counts.
“I … made up my mind to grow kind. I was not a kind person, but I believed I could learn.” Alice Flett Darwin, in The Stone Diaries
Ultimately, The Jar will indeed be a diary. It will be interesting on January 1, 2017 to tip The Jar, spill out its contents, and read the story of 2016. Something tells me I will learn a good deal as I piece together the post-its.
Attitude is everything. Besides, a fortune cookie can’t be totally bogus, right?
My thanks to my good friend for this gift.
So, what’s in your Jar?