January is always a hard month. It comes with so many expectations. Between setting resolutions and trying to make a plan for the year ahead, plus the added pressure of having a “good year”, it gets overwhelming. Of course, it’s normal to wish for ourselves a good, even better year ahead and if we feel that last year was a disaster, our biggest hope is that next year will be a success. However, as we reflect on the year that’s just gone it’s important to look upon the moments of that year which we’re more grateful for, rather than the moments of perceived failure or unhappiness. Our gratitude attitude can go along way to balancing our expectations and help us welcome the new year with a healthier mindset.
Making gratitude a daily practice
Practicing gratitude doesn’t magically make the things that are not going right in you life become better, nor does it make you instantly happy (in my opinion) as some happiness gurus might exclaim. What it does do however is redirect your attention away from what’s not working towards what is working and therefore refocuses your mindset from the negative to the positive. It’s not about creating a false perception of positivity and abundance but rather re-training your way of thinking and your outlook towards life. With consistent practice, we can learn not to think about the things that are lacking in our life as much and appreciate the things that we do have, no matter how small. This creates a more solid ground from which to grow and pursue our goals, without the stressful feeling of wanting and inadequacy, but rather with the reassurance of sufficiency and acceptance.
You can achieve this consistency by setting aside a couple of minutes each day for a little journaling, which is the easiest practice for expressing gratitude. You can use any notebook, or better yet, a dedicated journal or planner that also helps you set your goals and achieve your daily tasks. You’ll notice that all the best ones have a gratitude section, where you can list three things that you are grateful for every day. There’s a reason why gratitude and achievement go hand in hand!
Fear not if your gratitude list looks as mundane as: “I’m grateful for the tasty coffee I had this morning”. It’s okay if you don’t have something profound to write down everyday. I believe it’s actually humanly impossible to do that and it’s good to be finding different things to be grateful for each day. Don’t beat yourself up if your gratitude extends as far as your coffee cup, as it’s important not to underestimate what we’re grateful for. A good cup of coffee is a great start to your day and it sets you in the mood to be energised and productive. It’s better than having a lousy cup of coffee, or worse yet, not having the time to have a coffee at all!
The Gratitude Jar
There is also another fun practice you can use to compliment your daily journaling that creates a more holistic and even surprising experience of gratitude. The gratitude jar. I was introduced to this idea by the author Elizabeth Gilbert. She calls it the happiness jar, but really the name doesn’t matter because the practice is aimed at invoking both more happiness and gratitude into your life. So you can call it what you want! When I first tried it I called it “my jar of pretty coloured papers filled with sweet memories”. It really looked like a jar full of sweets!
The idea is this: you take a big glass jar (it’s good if it’s glass as it’s fun to see it slowly filling up, but you can use any big container) and every single day, at the end of the day, for a year, you write down on a small piece of paper the happiest moment of that day, date it and slip into the jar. It’s a beautiful round off to your day because even if you ended up having a shit day, the practice forces you to find that one thing – again no matter how small or common – that made the day for you, or at least one moment in your day. As Gilbert says “even the horrible days have one least-bad moment”. At the end of the year you’ll hopefully have amassed 360 little happy moments to reflect on. 360 things to be grateful for. Isn’t that neat? For mine, I used pastel coloured papers that I cut up into small scraps to add some colour, but you can use any old little scrap of paper, or anything that can become an extra memento, like a piece of the daily newspaper, wrapping paper from a present, a piece of the matchbox from a restaurant you went to, train tickets, or tickets from plays and movies.
When the time comes at the end of the year to empty the jar and read through all these little papers filled with positive memories the takeaway is really immense. Trust me, the year I made my first gratitude jar I was recovering from the worse depression of my life, and looking back at all these moments filled me with hope, gratitude and love for everything and everyone who helped make that year just a little better.
So even if you think you’d had the year from hell, the jar will show you that it really wasn’t all as hellish as you thought and you’ll see that for each day of that year there was at least one moment that gave you joy, laughter, comfort or peace. And more importantly all these moments are yours. They’re your life. They’re yours to keep and remember and bring into the future as blissful reminders that it’s the little, unremarkable things that make up our life, and the things we can’t put a price on that make each year richer.
Text by Chryssanthi Kouri, a writer and filmmaker based in London. A curious introvert with an interest in self-development, she enjoys writing about life and human nature.