You may have seen a photo on Facebook or Pinterest of a cute little mason jar half-filled with slips of paper with a caption: "Fill a gratitude jar this year."
I'm not sure how many people who share those images actually follow through with theirs. I just saw a post from Elizabeth Gilbert who has a big honking jar completely filled.
I did not write a slip every day. I did not use a mason jar tied with twine. Instead, I took a tall skinny vase that I wasn't using and set it on the kitchen table. I cut up slips of paper and put them in a small jar with some pens. And I did my best to remember to fill them out fairly regularly.
I tended to write a few at a time, and then skip days and weeks. In all, I ended up with around 60 slips. On New Year's Day I dumped them out and started reading them, and only then realized what a gift it was.
It's like re-reading a journal of the previous year while eating fortune cookies.
Here's what I learned:
It doesn't matter what you write. The simple act of finding something to appreciate shifts you a tiny bit each time. Grateful for rain -- we had a very long, hot, dry summer in Southern California. A huge drought. Rain, so abundant in my former hometown of Chicago, was precious and worth noting this year.
Mindfulness makes the mundane special. Grateful I can call and talk to my mom -- she's getting close to 90. I lost my dad two summers ago. And my mom and I had a rough patch a while back where we didn't talk at all. So being able to pick up the phone and call her is simple, yet weighty.
Reading the slips brings you back to the abundance in your life. Wonderful trip to Portland reminded me not just of the trip, but of our dear friends who hosted us, the Little League game we saw, the paleo food truck we found. Beyond all that, though, it represented a milestone for me, as the trip took place a month after a health diagnosis turned my world upside-down and made me question whether I would ever fly again. Completing that trip was a symbol that life was still good, and that a simple trip was much more than that.
Appreciating the small things my husband does improves my attitude and our marriage. Him making me laugh every day, a walk with the dog at magic hour, one time he went and got take-out when we both were sick. Months later I remember the magic hour walk, but I would have forgotten the take-out. Reading it (and writing it) strengthens our bond.
Because I am a foodie, it's not surprising that I commented on food. A lot. My favorite was -- Lasagna on Day 2. Not sure there is a lesson there, except to be appreciative of what's on our plates.
There were a number of work-related slips -- happy client! -- Grateful for a Wordpress coach! Work can become a grind, and for me this year there was a lot of change, so this one -- the opportunity to reboot, even though it's scary as hell -- probably meant the most.
We lost a very special animal this year, our dog Daisy's best friend. So there is a prescient slip -- Puppy playtime still happening -- followed later by a heartbreaking -- Grateful for 2-1/4 years of Willa-love -- followed by -- Grateful that Willa brought T & J into our lives.
I have my jar cleaned and ready for 2014, and a stack of new blank slips at the ready. I may be motivated to write more, having completed one year and seeing how lovely it was to read them on New Year's. But I don't like to think of it as a chore.
If you decide to do it, even writing one a week will make a shift in your life. I found that having the slips, pens, and jar on the kitchen table made it easy to keep up with. Have you tried this practice? Or do you have another gratitude practice you'd like to share?