Gratitude has been talked and written about a lot in the last few years as one of the keys to happiness. It always seemed like a bit of a no-brainer to me – well of course if you appreciate what you’ve got, you will be happier, doh.
But it turns out that deliberately cultivating an attitude of gratitude actually physically changes your brain: participants in a study on gratitude experienced “profound and long-lasting neural effects’ and were more likely to benefit from psychological benefits such as reduced depression and increased wellbeing. In a lovely cycle of positivity, you practice gratitude, feel happy, notice more things to be grateful for, feel more happy etc etc.
Well I want in on that. And I want it for my kids too. So for about a year now, M and L and I have had a gratitude jar. Or as I like to think of it, a small brewery of happiness.
The idea is very simple: at the end of every day you each take a moment to remember something you’ve felt grateful for that day, you make little note of it, fold it up and drop it in the jar. When the jar is full, a few months down the line, you take the notes out and read them out loud together, maybe with a bit of ceremony, maybe taking turns to guess who wrote the note, which can be fun. Not only does it remind you to be grateful every day, it also gives you sweet little memories you might otherwise have forgotten. (It also reminds me of just how bad my memory is, that’s less sweet.)
That’s the theory anyway and the first time we emptied it after five months or so, it really was quite gorgeous to unfold the little blasts of positivity from the past, surprising, funny and sometimes touching to see what the kids had really enjoyed and valued over the last months.
But as with everything in life (sigh), while it was new it was exciting and we eagerly scribbled down our little snippets of happiness every day… then every week… then not so much. Enthusiasm waned/we forgot/I remembered but didn’t want them to do it because that would mean ANOTHER 10 minutes before they went to bed (sometimes the notes turned into little gratitude essays…)
So last weekend, when M excitedly asked if we could ‘do the Gratitude Jar’, I wasn’t feeling overly thrilled about it – I’d seen M dropping notes into the jar amid fits of giggles and found myself annoyed that she wasn’t doing it properly. I was pretty sure it would be lacking in both quantity and quality.
And yes, it’s true, the jar contained a not insubstantial number of notes about poo, a few about wee. One containing a well-preserved pressed bogey. Some nonsense. Some trick ones supposed to look like they’d been written by someone else. Some drawings and some illegible scrawls. But actually it wasn’t annoying. It was thoroughly entertaining just to see M’s face so pleased with her trickery and laughing at all her own jokes, which were actually very funny, bless her. I suddenly realised how grateful I was to see that – is there anything more lovely than laughing together with your loves?
And I shouldn’t have doubted, there was also a seemingly endless flow of notes expressing real gratitude – a small sample here:
My other favourites included ‘I am gratchood for TV’, ‘SWEETS’, ‘Vomite’ and ‘I am not grateful for anything’. Jokers. Love it.
So, we’re getting back into the habit with renewed vigour, safe in the knowledge that if (when) it does slip, it doesn’t matter, in fact quite the contrary, I’ll be grateful for it.