A couple of years back a friend gave me a mason jar with pen and pad of paper for Christmas. The jar was to capture the highlights of the year, so at the turn of the next year, I could go back and see the successes I’d had.
This year I decided to re-purpose the jar to collect gratitudes. I bought a spiral-bound weekly calendar, and each night I write down one (unique/new) thing I am grateful for, and at the end of the week, I put the completed page in the jar. I borrowed the idea from a TED talk, where the speaker (Shawn Achor) recommended several things to help foster/ recognize happiness. His model was a 21-day span, writing down three things you are grateful for each night, along with a few other daily habits, like writing a journal entry of something good that happened that day.*
The reason I wanted to use the jar to collect gratitudes is that I understand the concept behind it – that when you look for these things, then you start noticing them. And that people who are grateful for things in their lives (rather than stumbling through life feeling entitled) appreciate their life more, and can be happier with what they have.
Most days I try to think through things as I am on a walk, and select what I will write down as my gratitude that night. This is in an effort to not leave the decision to the end of the day and randomly picking a thing, but rather apply the practice to how I’m going through the day.
But I noticed something over the past several days. As I think of all the things I have to be grateful for – that my life would be significantly (or in any way) diminished without my having, I realize how much I do have – and that there are people who don’t have. And I feel my privilege rather than gratitude. And I feel guilt that I have these things, enjoy the leisure time, etc, that others may not have. So instead of feeling grateful, I end up feeling guilty. Which is the opposite of what the exercise is supposed to do, I think.
I’m still working on trying to capture those things I am grateful for, but this may be something I bring up in my next conversation with my therapist, or in the very least think long and hard about. Is it possible for me to feel the gratitude without the guilt – and if that guilt is going to come along each time, what can I do about it?
* from transcript: [We’ve found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. We’ve done these things in research now in every single company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.
Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand. And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness. We get people, when they open up their inbox, to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their social support network.
And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution.]