Put your gratitude in a jar


We are set up as humans to look for the negative. It is unfortunate, but true. Think about yourself. When you are getting ready for a day that feels challenging, what do you think about? The ways it will be hard to get through, or the ways you will find meaning in your day? I have come to believe it fundamentally changes our biochemistry to be grateful. As humans we are really good at looking for the negative. You don’t see any self help books in “How to find the Bad in the Day” No, we have that one down. But looking for or expecting good in our day is something that takes practice.

It is actually quite understandable if you think about it. When we were hunter-gatherers, we survived only by being vigilant to threats. But this hyper-vigilance does not serve us well anymore. Looking for the negative, for the threatening only serves to keep us in a high cortisol, stress state of mind and body. And it creates further negativity because we are looking for it and then reinforced to look for more.

Gratitude is a tool to help us escape this loop. And your gratitude journal, however you choose to keep it, will be a tool to get you there.

Today, I have another way too. A gratitude jar! This is a way that we "do our gratefuls," as my kids call them, in my home. You can put what you are grateful for on slips of paper that then go into the jar anytime you think of it. There is always somewhere to put that thought. We choose a certain day of the week to pull out slips together, usually around a meal, and share some of the grateful highlights of that week. Often the person who wrote them forgets they had put it in there which makes it a gem for a second time! Or if there is a day that is particularly challenging, we might get the jar out for a "booster shot" of gratitude.

I have used this tool in my residency program with the residents I teach who loved the idea so much that they put a Gratitude Jar in the team room so that they could share some gratitude while on a grueling rotation in the hospital. It serves not only to rewire our brains individually, it also has power for being shared in a group.

I gave this idea once to a friend before Thanksgiving and she used it that evening with her extended family as a way to put the "thanks" back in Thanksgiving. Some family members seemed enthusiastic and some didn’t, but she felt good about it herself. The next year, she had planned on doing it again, but marveled when family members asked if the ritual would be repeated. Sometimes you just have to give people, including yourself, a chance to "try on" new tools.

If this sounds interesting, try it, at home, at work, or even somewhere you volunteer. Let us know how it goes for you. Choose a container that speaks to you or has special meaning for you already, or just a jar. The world is a stressful place right now and the more tools you have for well-being, the better. I can't wait to hear how y'all are doing with your practice!

Live well,

Tanmeet SethiComment