It’s that time again.
A new year begins and we make the heartfelt resolution to improve our lives. To slow down and appreciate the simple things, perhaps. But then we’re faced with the reality of a jam-packed schedule and the resolutions fall to the wayside once again.
Enter the gratitude jar.
The idea couldn't be more simple: At the end of the day, you jot down something pleasant that happened on a scrap of paper. Something that brought you even a small moment of peace, connection, wonder, or sensory pleasure. Something that made you think or made you laugh. These things do not need to be profound. A good sandwich. Particularly fuzzy socks. A solid workout. A funny thing your child said. In fact, it might just be best if they are the sorts of small things that are likely to go unappreciated and get forgotten. Once you have it, fold up the scrap and toss it in a jar. You might do this alone, or you might make it into a family ritual.
Then, as the months and even the years go by, you can reach inside the jar, pull out a few scraps of paper, and be reminded of these small joys. You might read something that you’d forgotten about (which is why I like to write down seemingly minor things – you have that “Oh yeah, THAT!” kind of moment as the memory rushes back). You might be inspired to seek these things out again. You might share them with others and have a laugh. Or you might just feel happy revisiting these nice memories.
I am by no means the first person to suggest this exercise. Google “gratitude jar” or "happiness jar" and you’ll get hundreds of hits: customized jars and paper to buy especially for this reason (personally, I say to repurpose an old vase or Mason jar and cut up some scrap paper!). You’ll find apps, advice, discussions, Pinterest boards galore, and more. And author Elizabeth Gilbert has a lovely description of her happiness jar exercise here.
But what I can tell you is just how nicely this one-minute exercise aligns with the research on gratitude and happiness. First of all, it’s a short version of the classic count-your-blessings (or gratitude journaling) activity, which multiple studies find brings increased happiness, humility, and even improved physical health. And the act of revisiting positive memories from the past has also been linked to a slew of good feelings. For the minute that it will take you, the benefits are surprisingly potent.
Although it's easy, until it becomes a habit, be sure to put the jar and the paper within easy reach so you don’t forget to do it. Even if your day was full of stress and negativity, I guarantee you: you can find one small thing to be grateful for.
This is one quick, simple, and beneficial resolution that just might stick. And that's something to be grateful for.