In my Part I essay from June 23, 2016 (yes, a while back), I wrote about my experience starting a Gratitude Jar, having received one as a holiday gift from a good friend. At the time of that writing, I had logged about six months-worth of daily inserts of joyful memories. I had noted that this had become an anticipated daily morning ritual before work, and that I would write again after recording a year’s-worth of memories.
The standard practice for keeping a gratitude jar is to read through its contents after one year of compiling memories of experiences or events. I finally did so several weeks ago. Admittedly, some time is required to open and sort 365 small pieces of paper. Reading through them for their meaning and significance is altogether different. I imagine it is akin to reading a diary — though, as I stated in my first post — the gratitude jar is intentionally a positive collection of memories. Therein lies its distinctive value.
I noted that this daily practice had deepened my conviction about the role of choice in our lives, particularly in attitude. It had convinced me anew that attitude is everything.
These perspectives still hold true. Now, after having taken a trip back through 2016 via the memories and impressions recorded on those Post-its and tiny pieces of paper, I see how the year was unfolding and how various points in the year affected my outlook. Several themes emerged, most of which are universal — but were tied to how I was affected personally. At a certain point I tried to record how I felt about events and things happening outside me, though I only recorded a few such occurrences. So, in a sense, the jar was egocentric in its content. (A future goal may have to include stepping outside my little corner of the world.)
I found myself writing about family, friendships, pending retirement from a long-timework position, professional connections, warming weather, health, and readily available resources. Writing about these things brought into sharp relief how good things really were for me, in spite of the typical disappointments or frustrations that are woven into daily life. And as I described in my first essay, this is not to say that there weren’t days when I recited a mental countdown on some toxic professional saga I would no longer face in a few months’ time or reflected sadly on a situation that was unlikely to get better. But focusing on things that brought happiness brought experiences into balance.
Lesson 1: A daily recording of joyful and satisfying times made the challenges easier to manage. We all complain, to one degree or another, about the garbage that comes up. It’s a familiar, default position. But it’s also a contagious practice that, ironically, creates more stress rather than relieves it. The beauty of The Jar is in the conscious focus on the positive. That fortifies you for the dips, like an emotional bowl of Wheaties. Monitor the Mope. Tune Your ‘Tude. Expand Your Enjoyment. If resilience isn’t part of your constitution, you can practice it. Attitude can change. Learned behavior is a pretty good deal. Fake it ’till you make it.
Lesson 2: Relationships are the heart of our existence. There is enough research out there that supports the connection between social relationships and emotional wellbeing — basic to human survival. Most of my memories involved an experience or interaction with another human being, whether it was a family member, friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Reading through these memories forced me to see where some relationships are thriving and to acknowledge that others are in need of attention.
The jar is a window on my window.
I’m hoping my window is open and stays open. The Jar is now a permanent part of my daily ritual. My thanks again to my friend for this gift.
I highly recommend The Jar. Let me know if you decide to try it, and what happens when you do.