What’s In Your Jar?

Several years ago, on January 1, I was determined, despite circumstances, to somehow make the coming year one of the best. I bought a colorful jar at a local thrift shop and brought it home, cleaned it up, and placed it on a prominent shelf in our living room. Each day, if and when something positive happened that caught me by surprise, I took a moment to jot the event down on a scrap of paper and toss it in the jar, with hopes of filling it by the year end.

Some happenings I wrote down were notable blessings, others just small acts of kindness, or a glimpse of beauty. Someone bought me dinner. I found a hidden $20 in an old coat pocket. The sunrise was an orange-pink cream-sickle. I was invited to meet Peyton Manning at a breakfast. My car started again after stalling out. I found the more I wrote down, the more I started noticing all of the remarkable things that were happening all around me all throughout the day. I wondered if other years had been like this, and I just hadn’t noticed. June came and the jar was overflowing. I had to start another jar.

A study was done by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCoullough on the impact gratitude has on our well-being. They put people into three groups — one group with instructions to simply keep a daily journal, no specifications as to content. The second group was to only record negative experiences, and the third to make a list of things they were thankful for. The results? Those who daily expressed their gratitude experienced less stress and depression and had higher levels of enthusiasm, energy, and determination, concluding that those in the third group were more likely to make progress toward the achievement of personal goals and exhibit an optimistic view of life.

I’m not much for get-rich-quick schemes, but I do believe that incorporating gratitude into our daily lives is an easy and practical way to increasing a sense of abundance. Realistic optimism, a trait of emotional intelligence, results from seeing opportunities despite negative obstacles around us. It’s that ability to see challenges as hurdles that can be leaped, being unfazed by defeat, and operating from a mindset of success rather than a fear of failure. It’s not that the negative things no longer exist, or happen; it’s that we no longer primarily focus on them and let them bog us down.

On December 31, I emptied my jars. Seeing the hundreds of notes spread out across my bed, and reading the little snippets of love, joy, and wonder that I experienced the year before, many of which I’d forgotten, made my heart sing. I felt like the richest girl on earth! This practice of expressing gratitude in writing changed my heart from the inside out and completely refreshed my perspective.

If you’re struggling to find the good in your day-to-day life, don’t wait to develop the mindset of gratitude.   Now is a good month as any to start. It may be a stretch at first to even find one positive thing in your day worthy of writing down, but try it.  Search for them, if needed, as you’d scour the house for a valuable possession you misplaced. Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts attuned to even the tiniest of blessings, no matter how silly they may seem.

Then let me know how your jar’s looking by June.

“To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” — Robert Emmons