The Happy Jar – Fostering Mindfulness And Gratitude With Children
By Ally Ford
Each night when my family sits down together for dinner we end with a lovely mindfulness tradition, “The Happy Jar.” My children named it, I like to think, for the way it makes them feel. We each write a little note about something for which were grateful and at that moment, regardless of what’s happening with any of us, whether there are tears over the healthy dinner mommy cooked that nobody wants to eat, or endless begging for dessert, all worries fall away, the table quiets, and hearts open.
It’s always a fun team project. My six-year-old daughter gathers pens and paper for all and hands them out. Together, in silence, we reflect upon something that made us feel happy and for which we’re grateful, write it down, date it, and fold up our notes. Then, and this is the really fun part, we try to guess what everyone wrote down. Though, as much as we want to tell each other, we do our best to keep it a secret (well, sometimes we just can’t hold it in, which of course is totally awesome). My eight-year-old son then collects the notes and deposits them into the happy jar, which is a vase on the buffet next to the dinner table.
It’s funny, I actually had the vase for years before I was married or had children and just used it for decorative purposes. But it just so happens to have the Chinese symbol for happiness on it, which makes me feel like it must have known it was destined for a more important use. At the end of the year on or around New Year’s Eve, based on party plans and family gatherings, the four of us sit down and one by one draw the notes out of the jar to read at random. It’s a special way to end one year and enter the next with the frame of mind of gratitude, positivity, and love.
Many experts recommend keeping a gratitude journal or adopting a gratitude practice because it’s been scientifically shown to lift spirits and help manage stress and anxiety. Writing it down is certainly poignant, but it can be just as effective to pause and simply think of something for which you’re grateful and notice the sensations it brings to your heart and your entire being. Pause and try it now!
I find that when I think of one thing for which I’m grateful, it plants a seed which then flowers into the recognition of numerous wonderful things I have in my life. It can be a powerful practice which can transform a day of challenge, pain or hardship into one of calm surrender. So I invite you to try The Happy Jar with your family and make it a fun family event. Let the children choose the jar, paper, writing utensils and the special place you’ll store all of these materials. Have them name it anything they’d like, make it their own, and make it perfect for your family. May it bring as many smiles and as much laughter and love to your family as it has to mine.