A little over a year ago I challenged myself to keep my version of a happiness jar. I had seen this post on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page and in that moment it was the most genius thing I’d heard of. After a small handful of years battling graduate school 2.0/dissertation/bad marriage/bad divorce/move-cross-country-to-live-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-induced depression, it was time to shed that heavy skin in exchange for hope, thankfulness, and a healthy stab at happiness. The idea of the happiness jar is to spend a moment each day to record that day’s happiest moment on a slip of paper. Then you stick it in a jar. Whenever you’re feeling shitty, you take a slip (or two or 10) from the jar to remind yourself that there are things to look forward to.
The next few weeks were spent looking for the perfect container. At first I tried looking for huge glass jar like Liz Gilbert’s but eventually decided I wanted something different and uniquely mine. After cruising my town’s collection of thrift shops, discount stores, and yard sales, this lovely metal birdcage from Michaels craft store called to me. I originally intended on lining the inside with some clear plastic to keep my notes from falling out but keeping the cage parked on my dresser kept everything in its place. Knowing that I would struggle with pulling happiness out of every day, my happiness “jar” ended up being more like container for joys and gratitudes.
I’d be a giant liar to claim that since then, I succeeded in taking a moment each and every day to reflect on something that made me happy or thankful. Of the 12 months that comprised the year 2015, I had notes of happinesses and gratitude for 10. And guess how many notes my birdcage had collected by December 31, 2015? Twenty-seven. Yep. I said 2-7. I had also intended on taking some time on New Year’s Day to empty my birdcage and read each note as a reflection on the past year’s worth of growth. Note today’s date. Ha.
Now, here’s the thing. The point of this whole exercise was not to stick to some hard and fast rule and then kick myself each and every time I fell short. Life happened. I got busy. I fell asleep with pen in hand. I’d know exactly what I was going to write later that night the moment it happened and forget what it was by bedtime. At first I did kick myself for failing to do a thing as small as slipping a piece of paper into a birdcage every night. But I soon realized that it wasn’t the physical ritual that was important. I found myself approaching each day as if entering an episode of a lighthearted mystery show. What would I write about tonight? What will I be most thankful for today? Will it be my dinner date with the work gang? Will I be surprised by a friendly smile of a random stranger? Perhaps it will simply be the ability to bask in the warmth of the bright sun on a cloudless winter day.
Even if my pen didn’t hit paper at the end of every night, it did not take long to develop a mindset focused on looking forward to rather than watching out for. Instead of expecting not-so-great things to happen, I began to look out for good ones. Now, don’t mistake this for one of those overly optimistic “just think positive!” success stories. Oh, no. When shit hits the fan there is NOTHING rosy about cleaning the mess. But the mess will get cleaned up and it will feel good. Happy might not be exactly what you feel, but you sure as hell will be thankful the job is done. And you don’t have to write about it to enjoy it.
Your fellow human,