Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? She wrote the book Eat Pray Love, is known for encouraging meditation, positive thinking and, for a while, she kept a happiness jar. Basically, every day she wrote down the happiest moment of her day on a scrap of paper “for even the horrible days have one least-bad moment.” I admit, the first time I heard of the happiness jar, I thought it sounded… corny.
If I had a best-selling book, millions of dollars, a loving husband and multiple homes, I’d have a happiness warehouse. It was so much easier to think of things that were annoying/upsetting me, and all the things I didn’t have, rather than the things I did.
My attitude changed towards the end of last year. A job had run its course, freelancing was slow, and I was low on money. On top of that, my dog suddenly needed thousands of dollars in medical care. I felt myself on the brink of a panic attack on more than one occasion. But panic, I did not.
Instead, I set up a GoFundMe campaign, pitched a bunch of story ideas, took an online workshop in a more lucrative area of writing, networked more aggressively, updated my resumes and applied for jobs.
There was one job in particular that I wanted very much. I told myself that I would be okay if I didn’t get it, and mentally prepared myself for disappointment, but I never gave up hope.
To my surprise, donations started pouring in for Ruby’s surgery, and then, the day before Christmas, I found out that I got the job I wanted. I felt so overwhelming grateful that I decided to focus on gratitude for the rest of the year.
I remembered Elizabeth Gilbert’s happiness jar. What if I wrote down every day not my happiest moment, but something that I was grateful for? I pulled out a huge glass jar that I had bought at a flea market last year, cleaned it up and set it on my desk.
On January 1, I wrote my first gratitude note. It wasn’t very profound. I was grateful for my new haircut, and that so many people liked it on Facebook. In fact, a lot of my notes over the course of the month mentioned really random things: like finding two pairs of jeans that fit.
But almost every day, I wrote about being grateful for:
- My family, friends and colleagues… including my freelance editors.
- My dog… and the support that people showed to her/us regarding her surgery.
- My home… which is warm and safe and quiet.
- My new job… new co-workers, and the volunteers who help us.
Then a strange thing happened. As the month progressed, I started feeling more grateful, more often.
On January 9, I wrote: “It’s morning, so the day hasn’t happened yet. But I’ve been waking up feeling grateful, first for being well rested, second for my lovely home. Also Ruby seems to be healing well. When I think about how much joy she bring to my life, it brings tears… of joy.”
On January 11: “David Bowie died early this morning. While I am deeply shocked and sad, I choose to acknowledge and be grateful that I lived at the same time as he did. He was a gift.”
On January 18: “It snowed overnight and I woke up to beautiful, still clean white snow. Feeling grateful for this serene winter beauty, seasons that I missed for so long. Also, today is MLK, Jr. Day. How lucky are we to have had him in our period of history.”
Two days later: “This morning’s sunrise was brilliant. I am so grateful to have this wonderful home office that faces east. I get to see the sun rise every day!!”
On February 1, I wrote a draft of this blogpost… and that night I learned that my father was in the hospital. He passed away a few days later.
When I returned home from California, it took me a while to write another gratitude note, even though I did feel grateful for many things… like the fact that my father didn’t feel any pain, that he wasn’t in the hospital for a long time, that he was surrounded by his children, and that he had lived such an active, independent life up until the end.
I was also grateful that my siblings and I got along so well, despite the pressure of incredibly difficult decisions and living together for a week. That – and the fact that my father still had all his own teeth at 86 – was something that even the nurses were impressed with.
When my late husband died, I was so angry, disappointed, confused and upset it took me months, if not years, to feel grateful about anything. This time, I could see the positives.
Two days ago, I wrote this: “It’s been a ROUGH couple of weeks, but also much to be grateful for. Family. Friends. An amazing father. New opportunities. And a graceful exit.”
It feels like gratitude grows on itself, like the more you notice, acknowledge and feel it, the more things you feel grateful for. I love my gratitude jar, and I’m going to keep filling it up, even when times are tough.
Thanks for the idea, Elizabeth.