What’s in Your Jar?
Updated: Sep 27
Lately, I’ve been trying to untangle the difference between thanks and gratitude. It’s so easy to use them interchangeably. But I realize there are some subtle yet important differences to making them more real in our daily lives.
Saying “thank you” can be done so casually, out of habit or just plain good manners. We are taught to do this as children. As a child, I learned to always show my manners. Sometimes, even as I was expressing “please” and “thank you” to someone, I was feeling quite the opposite. My mother did her best to instill the habit and manners. But I can’t say that those efforts truly captured my heart; for example, whenever I was being wasteful with food, her reminder that there were kids in Africa starving never really did the trick of making me feel gratitude.
I’ve learned that real gratitude comes to life through life experiences, and it’s deeper, too--something that is felt before a word gets uttered, if at all. That’s how it moves from head to heart. Some years ago, a TED talk by the monk Brother David Steindl-Rast expanded my understanding about it in a way that especially resonates with me now every single day. In the talk, he mentioned how he had visited a place where electricity for lighting and clean drinking water was not available. The experience made him tangibly appreciate having those very things at home and inspired him to become more intentional about letting the feeling of gratitude into his daily life. He set reminders near his faucet and light switch so that the gratitude would not fade into unawareness again.
Steindl-Rast was on the right track. I think of how my gratitude potential has swelled because of the pandemic and my own health ordeals. I am grateful for what I can see as I work to overcome my diagnosis with low vision. My gratitude is an actual feeling, from my heart to my head, which makes me aware of the opportunities for gratitude that I missed when I could see without struggle. No matter how long it takes to emerge from this condition, as I know I will one day, I don’t want to forget. I want to keep reminders so that my gratitude continues to rise.
I’ve tried variations of daily gratitude before, including a gratitude journal and a gratitude jar. Recently, I reached for my gratitude jar after hearing not-so-good news from my neurologist. The jar, just basic and plastic, is over ten years old. I had forgotten that it existed. Like most resolutions, it fell by the wayside before
the year ended, yet I kept the jar on the windowsill of my little home office. When the news came, the jar came back to mind. I handed the jar to Hubby and asked him to read one. I was so curious about what I had written on those little folded- up sticky notes.
Hubby’s curiosity kicked in as well. He kept reading until we almost read them all. I'm sure he was glad he was mentioned in several. I was glad for him and to hear much of what I’d placed in the jar, gratitude as simple as:
· A clean kitchen floor that came from weeks of wanting to steam clean under the stove and refrigerator
· The rare occurrence of watching a movie with my youngest son, since we don’t usually like the same kinds of movies
· Dinner with Hubby and Son No.2, which came out of the bad habit of grabbing our plates and going to our respective screens instead of sitting at the table and talking. We each enjoyed it.
It was uplifting to reflect on where I was then in comparison to where I am now.
When feelings of helplessness try to lure me in, and they do, I have learned to focus on how much help I DO have in every area of my life and the people who freely provide it. A small trick that works every time. Like most of the things that make life richer, intention and action keep gratitude alive.
My wish is that we could experience more connection through gratitude. What would happen if we were able to benefit from each other’s gratitude experiences? What if we chose to share our awareness of or even our struggle with gratitude? Perhaps hearing of someone else’s experience would enhance mine, and vice versa.
May we all choose to keep our gratitude pumps primed and flowing.