What's in Elizabeth Gilbert's Happiness Jar?

The author of Big Magic reveals what really makes her happy.

Posted Nov 06, 2015

Penguin Books
Source: Penguin Books

When I first interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert about her highly regarded novel, The Signature of All Things, she told me about her gratitude jar. It's a great idea worth revisiting during the holiday season. Here's more from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Big Magic, her new best-selling book about creativity

I have a giant apothecary jar and nearly every day, at the end of the day, I write down the best moment on a scrap of paper and put it in there. It’s a wonderful gratitude exercise. It’s a remarkable thing for me to go back and pull out of that jar evidence of those happy moments. I marvel at how I would have forgotten these moments. They’re never major moments, never the rock star moments in life. Instead they’re the quiet moments that filled me with an unexpected sense of pleasure. They’re so easily overlooked and I love that I have them recorded for myself.

It’s really easy, and for the ambitious, it’s a very interesting exercise. I’m a very ambitious person. I think we all chase our ambitions because we believe they will make us happy. And now I have six years of evidence in my happiness jar that on a day to day, moment to moment level, the stuff that makes me happy is remarkably simple.

I tend to write notes like: it’s bedtime, and me and my husband are getting ready for bed. I realize that I don’t have a glass of water and I go down to the kitchen to get it. I see one of my cats and I stop to pet him, listening to the quiet in the house. In this quiet moment, I’m grateful for my home and my husband, and my glass of water. How nice to be able to have a glass of water next to the bed when you’re thirsty, and to have a husband who you like, and a cat who you like.

Or I’m going on a jog, and I’ll be on the path and scare up a great blue heron. (I live in the country.) It flies out of the ditch in front of me, and I have this moment of awe, interrupting whatever I was thinking about. It’s usually something like: I need this or I want that. I’m angry at this person or that thing. The daily churn of some version of desire that our minds are usually filled with. And then, out of nowhere, there’s this beautiful animal right in my path—and just as suddenly, it’s gone. That ends up being the best thing that happened to me that day, and I would have forgotten it if I hadn’t written it down.

My happiness jar isn’t a chronicle of achievements or victories, but a collection of small, everyday marvels.

Elizabeth Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the novel, The Signature of All Things, and numerous other short stories and magazine articles. Her latest book is the bestseller, Big Magic.