Focusing on gratitude with a Good Things Jar

What does it mean to be really grateful? For me, gratitude starts with recognizing the good things that happen every day.

Sometimes these are big things – like a great vacation. But it’s just as often something little, like having someone at the store compliment me on my hair. When those little things happen, if I can take a minute and really savor them, it changes my whole day for the better.

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I make this sound great, but… let me be honest. It isn’t always easy. For those of us who struggle with mental health issues (anxiety, bipolar, depression, etc.), sometimes there’s just this overwhelming sense of “ugh” instead of “wow” when interacting in the world.

When I’m feeling bad, I can recite all the right things that I know I have to be “thankful” for – like having a safe house, and plentiful food, and warm clothing – but it’s not the same. And the same goes for the rest of our family. We all know how fortunate we are and are truly appreciative of it, but we’re not focused on gratitude sometimes, even when we know we have it pretty good.

So, a few years ago, I did a thing.

Our Good Things Jar invites family members to celebrate big and small moments (Unschool Rules).

The idea of the Good Things Jar

For Christmas 2014, I wanted to make handmade gifts for our family. So I took to Pinterest and Facebook (because of course) and found an idea:

“This January, why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen. Then, on New Year’s Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened in a year.”

Well, that sounded pretty cool. I didn’t know how my family would react, but I had about a billion Ball jars in the cabinet, and, most importantly, THIS SOUNDED LIKE SOMETHING I COULD DECORATE WITH WASHI TAPE.

When we exchanged gifts, I presented the rest of the Conciliottomans with not only a nicely decorated “Good Things Jar,” but also a little box that held a bunch of blank colorful paper and a pen, with a note:

“No matter how BIG or small, when a good thing happens, grab a slip, write it down and add it to the jar. Let’s see how full it gets in the year to come!”

We spent all of 2015 filling the jar, emptied it and did it again in 2016 and 2017, and are continuing in 2018 and beyond. In fact, two families we know have even started their own Good Things Jar since seeing ours!

So how can you make your own, and what, exactly, do you do with it?

Our Good Things Jar invites family members to celebrate big and small moments (Unschool Rules).

Good Things Jar: What you’ll need

How to make your Good Things Jar

This is the fun part, right? Take your Ball or Mason jar – wide-mouth is a must, so that you can get your slips into it – and go to town decorating with Washi tape and letter stickers and anything else you like. Label it – including your family name if you like, though if you use a ridiculously long portmanteau like Conciliottoman, maybe don’t.

If you’re doing this as a family project, something cool is having each family member choose a pattern of Washi tape and doing a series of stacked rings, youngest to oldest, to personalize.

Next, grab that bright 12×12 cardstock. Some people use little pieces of regular paper that they fold, but those can get pretty squished by the end of the year. We like cardstock because it’s durable. Make sure you pick a nice vibrant color, but nothing so dark you can’t easily read what is written on it.

Grab your paper cutter, and cut the cardstock into three strips, each 4″ wide. Now, take those strips and cut them to be 2″ tall. You should get 18 2″x4″ strips out of each piece of cardstock. I try to do three different colors of cardstock at once – giving us a mix to write on.

Now you need to find somewhere to put those good-things-waiting-to-happen slips. You can use any small, closing container you have around the house (I think ours is a tin that a wallet once came in?), or, if you’re looking for something to purchase, a recipe box is generally a good size.

Throw a nice pen in your box of blank slips, and boom: Finished Good Things Jar and accessories!

Our Good Things Jar invites family members to celebrate big and small moments (Unschool Rules).

Yes, these are really good things of ours from this year. (I snuck a peek to stage this photo.)

Building a Good Things Jar tradition

So here’s the real trick: Getting your family to share their Good Things.

What worked really well for us was sitting the jar and slips on the middle of our dining-room table. Even though we move it to eat, people see it all the time, and it really makes it easy to grab one and write something down.

I make sure I’m doing plenty myself, so people keep seeing the number of slips grow, and occasionally I’ve been known to say, “Hey! That sounded like a Good Thing!” when I hear someone in the family being happy about something.

One of the things my family likes to do to mess with me is put their slips in the jar with the written-on side facing IN against the other slips. This prevents me from reading them through the jar. Which, I have to admit, is a little bit mean. But it makes “reading day” all the more fun.

This is a page of Good Things from our 2015 family scrapbook. That year, we had 145 good things total; the next year, it went up to 210! Even visiting friends contributed – one of my friends now living in Philadelphia is featured on this one as saying “Yummy Pizza,” referring to a pizza homemade by my mom.

Celebrating your Good Things

Some time between Christmas and New Year’s, when we’re all home together, we find a time to make the Reading of the Good Things into an event. We all take a stack, and take turns going around the room and reading them aloud. (Unintentionally funny, because of course they’re written in first person, and not always by the reader, so you get things like Chris reading “I got new LEGOs” or something.)

It’s an amazing way to look back at the year – and almost always involves a lot of reminiscing while we go, plus realizations like “I write a lot of good things about food.” After we’re done, I get all the slips, because I do something special with them: Since I scrapbook, I incorporate them into our yearly album, which is another reason why we prefer to use cardstock for the slips!

A Good Things Jar invites family members to celebrate big and small moments (Unschool Rules).

We also have some “Good Things Jar Extenders” we do. Last year, I started telling people around September that I would take the number of Good Things we had, split it five ways, and donate that number of dollars to the charity or cause of each person’s choice.

In 2016, we ended up with donations of $42 apiece (from a total of 210 good things) to our local 4-H, to Pengins for Everyone, to a group helping Syrian refugees in nearby Lancaster County, to a charity that donates books to disadvantaged children in Houston, Texas, and to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA. (Side note: We had 145 Good Things in 2015, so we had a big increase in 2016!)

We also sat a small, clear piggy bank near our slips, and everyone started dumping their pocket change into it. We decided we’d also donate that at the end of the year to a charity we all agreed on, and last year, we gave $69.83 that we gathered to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This year, my mom suggested (and everyone agreed) that we use it to ship out some of the 200+ stuffed penguins in our basement as part of the aforementioned Pengins for Everyone, our family’s nonprofit, and we came up with about $100.

The 2017 jar was even fuller than 2016. Anyone want to guess how many slips we ended up with? (I haven’t counted yet, but I’m excited to find out – and 2018’s collection is well underway!)

Finally, I am hoping we can start a “Virtual Good Things Jar” in the comments. If you can, leave a comment with one good thing that happened recently. Remember: It can be big or small! Our family would love to celebrate your good things with you.

My good thing: I am especially grateful to CM&M Photography for my Good Things Jar photos!

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