My favorite thing about January 1st of each new year has become making my first entry in my happy jar. I have written about my happy jar before, but I’ll write about it again here because I think it has been a while.
In 2013 a friend told me about his idea, and I totally loved it. It seemed like a challenge, but one that I could take on. So when 2014 came around, I made my first happy jar. Making a happy jar really isn’t difficult. I buy a mason jar. I write the words “daily happy things” and the year on an index card, and then I tape it to the mason jar. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
At the end of each day, I write down (on an index card that I tear in half) one happy thing that happened that day. This can be challenging in a number of ways. Sometimes I want to write down everything I did that day, because it was such a happy day. However, I prefer to be specific and pick just one moment- “I had a nice conversation with a stranger,” or “I held hands with Jonny.” Instead of, “I ate pizza and watched a movie and hung out with my family.” Sometimes it is difficult to pick just one moment but I like it better because while I am writing it, I go back to that one specific moment and I feel that warmth again.
On the other hand, writing in my happy jar can be challenging when I have a really shitty day. Like, really shitty. Like, if a friend died that day. Or if I am depressed. Or if I just think happiness is a made up thing. Or if it was one of those typical Monday’s where everything went wrong and I messed up, or didn’t get out of bed. On those days, I pick something pretty general, such as, “I opened my eyes and saw my cat,” or “I breathed oxygen,” or “I didn’t burn my toast,” or “I stayed clean.” Even when it’s really hard, I try to be grateful in the moment for these seemingly small (but really very beautiful) things.
In my book I will expand on all of this and I provide research that supports the idea that taking at least one moment each day to be grateful can actually change the way your brain thinks. I really don’t feel like doing that right now, so you’re just going to have to trust me. I’ll provide some personal examples.
I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is list three things I’m grateful for (sometimes I list more than three), and every night I write in my happy jar. This has changed my life. I have noticed that I can get to place of gratitude all the time. Sometimes it’s automatic.
Lately, I’ve been having a case of shitty PTSD nightmares that wake me up at very inconvenient hours. When I wake up, I am terrified and very tense, and then I am immediately grateful. Two years ago, my immediate reaction to a nightmare was rage. And there is certainly still some anger that comes up around my PTSD, but the first thing that comes is gratitude. I think this is a direct result of practicing gratitude daily.
Another way my happy jar has helped me is in the times that I mess up. I mentioned that I didn’t do well in school for my last semester of classes. I was so grateful the whole time, it was hard to be hard on myself. I noticed that my self-talk was encouraging and compassionate (most of the time). I would bomb a test that I studied really hard for and be bummed about that, but as I walked out of the classroom I would think, “I’m grateful that I really care about this subject,” or “I’m so grateful for my education.” Instead of, “wow, you’re so stupid and you can’t do anything right,” which was the theme of my self-talk two years ago. In talking about this example I have to mention that I look in the mirror and say, “I love you” to myself everyday, but I don’t want to overwhelm you.
The really cool thing about my happy jars is that now I have two mason jars full of happy memories. I date one side of the half index card, and I write my happy thing on the other. Think of how cool it will be ten years from now to have these artifacts of happy moments to look back on.
I like to start my happy jar on January 1st of each year, but if you happen to stumble upon this post in March, you don’t need to wait until next year to start this. You could start it in March and then start a new one the next March, or the next January. Whatever. I’m just saying that you can do this at any point, and you don’t need a new year to give you permission to start.