America, the past few weeks have been anxiety-producing and downright tough. I’m not going into politics today and in this space. Instead, I’m telling you about the Thankful Jar (again) and why I’m bringing it back.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving last year, I got an idea via an NPR story and Pinterest to make a Thankful Jar. It’s a simple project. You cut up pieces of paper, make your family write down what they’re thankful for daily, and toss them into a mason jar. You can pick any time to read them. We read ours on Thanksgiving last year.
This year, I feel like we need a little extra thankfulness, so we’re going to keep the Thankful Jar going through the end of the year, reading what we’ve written sporadically (read: on the rare night that we’re not stuffing food in our faces and running off to sports or music class).
Why am I bringing back the Thankful Jar? Because we have so much to be thankful for, and it’s easy to lose sight of that. Practicing daily gratitude has many benefits–both physical and mental. And it’s contagious. My go-to website lately for mindfulness and practicing gratitude is Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action.
But back to the Thankful Jar. This year, more than others, America, let’s spend the week before Thanksgiving (one week from today) being thankful. If you want more details about it, you can check out my blog from last year here.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. What is it? Why is it so slippery? One minute I have a firm grip on joy. The next minute joy’s up and gone without a word, and I’m left wondering where the heck it went.
The reason I have been thinking about joy a lot over the past few days is that I’m in the middle of a joy drought. My life feels too busy, and when I feel too busy, I get rundown. I don’t know about you, but when I’m rundown, I start to feel resentful. When I feel resentful, I get bitchy. And it’s a straight line from bitchy to lashing out at those closest to me.
When I’ve reached the bitchy point, it’s hard work to flip my thoughts around and start practicing gratitude. But oh so worth it–my husband/manchild and kids can attest! The bottom line is that no one can make you happy or joyful. You have to knuckle down and work at making choices that will lead you to joy. It does get easier, though–practicing gratitude.
I’m sharing three simple things that I’m going to do to nurture myself and get out of my joyless rut. Even if you have time for one of these things, it will help shift your perspective and bring you closer to joy.
Be more altruistic. If you’re short on time, pay it forward the next time you’re at Starbucks and buy the lady behind you a coffee. If you can spare an hour or two, volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to you.Volunteer Matchis a great resource for finding organizations that are a fit for you. Giving to others makes you think about how good you have it, and it feels good to give back to the world.
Practice daily gratitude. Before Thanksgiving, my family practiced daily gratitude by using a thankful jar. We wrote one thing per day and dropped it into the jar to read on Thanksgiving morning. It made us think about how much we had and helped us shake off any negative blahs. An easier version of this is to write down (or dictate to Siri) one thing per day that makes you thankful and skip the jar. Challenge yourself to do this for a week.
Make more time for exercise, even if it’s a twenty-minute walk. The endorphins released during exercise will boost your mood and help you shift your perspective. After an hour of yoga or boot camp, I feel taken care of mentally and physically, and I can return to my family able to contribute in a positive and loving way. If I start a workout feeling weighed down by life, I make a point of using the workout to think about what’s going on, how I can let go of negative thoughts, and focus on being joyful instead.
Bonus: If you have five minutes to spare and want to dork out on the definition of joy, click herefor a YouTube video from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
My husband and I just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve. Ten years ago, when we were sipping cocktails poolside in sunny Aruba, I proclaimed that we would be back to celebrate our tenth anniversary. In the past ten years, like most couples, we have weathered a few heartbreaks: job loss, miscarriage, and the passing of a beloved parent, to name a few. And we have been blessed with more gifts than we deserve: two beautiful children, amazing friends and neighbors, job prospects, and a supportive and loving extended family. Not a day goes by that I don’t take a minute to express gratitude for all that I have. I am, without a doubt, a woman changed for the better.
On our tenth anniversary, I’m happy to report, we did not go back to Aruba to celebrate. Instead, we celebrated by returning to our hometown (where we got married) amid torrential rainstorms. We were exhausted as the stomach flu made its way diligently through our family. And after visiting relatives for a few days (two of those I sat home with a puking, quarantined child), we dumped the kids on my parents for the night and made our way to the historic hotel where we spent our wedding night.
It was perfectly uneventful. We blew off our dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant in favor of eating mediocre food in the hotel bar because it meant we didn’t have to move. My husband sent his steak back twice (the food really was that bad) and finally asked if he could just have a hamburger to eat in our room. We were asleep by 10 p.m. (that’s eight p.m. at home in Colorado). It was glorious.
I think anyone who knew me ten years ago would agree that I am a woman changed for the better. The me who sat poolside sipping cocktails ten years prior never would have considered a night like the one I just described a success. Ten years ago, I didn’t understand how lucky I was, and I rarely expressed my thankfulness to anyone else. By committing to the unknown, and taking a partner for better or worse, I have learned that love and happiness are a state of mind. Through the ups and downs over the years (every marriage has them), I’ve learned to let go of my overly rigid expectations (some of them anyway), to appreciate what I’ve got, and to stop complaining about what I don’t. It’s a work in progress, but, at ten years I’m really looking forward to how I’m going to change with ten more.
I am constantly thinking about how to teach my kids gratitude, and I am constantly thinking about how I can bring more gratitude into my life. I believe that we chose how we react to events in our lives, and I want the overriding sentiment in my life to be gratitude. But why gratitude? Because focusing on gratitude forces you to count all the good things in your life as opposed to the bad. And I think there is a direct link between gratitude and joy. Selfishly, I want my life and the lives of my family members to be joyful.
That said, my eight-year-old son can be a real ass, and it’s a daily battle to help him (and me) think positively. Forget about getting him to say kind and loving things to his little sister. The other morning he woke up practically snarling at us. I’ve considered nicknaming him coywolf in honor of the new carnivore that has emerged in the Eastern U.S.. After the third insult, I got so mad that I called him a jerk, and I stormed out of the room. When I finished running through a litany of the ways he’s disappointed me (inside my head), I regrouped and reminded myself of the things he’s good at and that he’s testing boundaries. Then I apologized to him for yelling, and, out of mom-guilt, I devised a new tactic for teaching gratitude.
Since Thanksgiving’s just around the corner, I implemented the Thankful Jar (kudos to Pinterest). Each day, every member of the family has to think of something they are thankful for, write it down, and put it in the jar. On Thanksgiving day, before the rest of my family descends upon us, we will take fifteen or twenty minutes and read everything we’ve put in the jar. You don’t have to use fancy paper or a special paper punch (I did because I have them and look for reasons to justify having bought them). If you have a mason jar in your house, that’s great. If not, use a tall drinking glass or vase. Make this fun and easy for everyone.
The Thankful Jar is a small push-up with a big impact. While I admire the NPR interviewee who spent a year living by the rules of the Bible (and discovered that practicing daily gratitude changed how he approached life more than anything else), my family needs something we can fit daily into our too-busy lives between now and Thanksgiving. The Thankful Jar requires five minutes a day, a jar, small pieces of paper, and a pen.