When you live in the Bay Area, and your whole state is up in flames and the country, too, but more figuratively than literally, it can be hard to find what you can be grateful for. I’ve come to believe it’s an important practice, though, even as negativity, doom and gloom nip at your heels. Most of us pay particular attention to the idea of gratitude around the holidays, but there is plenty of research that shows how important a ritual of expressing what we’re thankful for can be.
Many years ago, as a new mom without a mom to help guide me in raising my children, I read everything I could and decided that we would focus on gratitude as the prayer around our evening meal each night. The New York Times just ran an editorial this week on how important it is to be grateful for both the profound and the inane. Thinking back, gratitude with little ones holding hands around the table were often sweet and funny: our girls were grateful for seeing a puppy on our walk to school or for finding their shoes so we wouldn’t be late. Sometimes one or the other would get to thinking — and thinking and thinking — for what seemed like forever, trying to come up with the perfect gratitude and I would consider placing a timer in the center of the table. “Oops! Time’s up!” I would declare and we’d move on before supper got cold. Of course, I never did that, but I did try to hurry them along. On hard days (and with children and parents in the same house, we had hard days for sure), the simple act of going around the table would lift us up a little bit so we could break bread in peace. I wish I had written down all the things our girls had said over those many years.
One year, when the girls were in high school, I’d read about Gratitude Jars and decided to make one for each of us. Four large mason jars sat on our counter all year long, each with one of our names written on masking tape. I’d hoped that the girls and my husband would use the little strips of paper I had put out to mark their blessings and stick them in the jar. I imagined that the following New Year’s Eve (or thereabouts) we would all sit together around the decorated tree and read our blessings — either quietly or loud enough to share. That’s how all the blogs I read said it would work. Sounds lovely, right?
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way for us. Days and days went by with the only blessings going into the jars being the ones I’d written. My husband tried occasionally; the girls never did. But I was bound and determined — so I filled them up. Dutifully, almost religiously, I would consider the blessings each had given me and put those in their jars. At the end of the year, I gave each of my family their fairly full jars to go through. There was no Kumbaya moment as I’d hoped for. The girls took their jars to their rooms where I think they went through the tiny slips of paper. My husband sat quietly in the living room and went through his. He gave me a hug. The girls acknowledged them in their tiny, quiet ways and I think they were touched by some of what I considered so important as to write it down, but I’ll never know what kind of impact those Gratitude jars had. That’s ok. Their impact was really on me.
Would I do them again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Why? Because they helped me focus on the good. Because raising teenagers is fraught with worry — and gratitude soothed my anxiety. Now that they’re in college, it might be time to make one again. This time I’ll just do one big one. Why clutter my kitchen counter with four when one is all I need?
While I have tried to build gratitude into our daily lives as a family, several years ago I started creating a gratitude journal here, on my blog, throughout the month of November leading up to Thanksgiving. I post here — and I post pared down versions on my FB page. As I’ve written, it grounds me when the world starts moving too fast, as it does throughout the holiday season. I’m grateful that occasionally someone reads what I’ve written and connects to it in some way — but I write for me. Going back through the years, I find threads that show up time and time again. There is something reassuring about that.
This morning, I read this poem, “Three Gratitudes” by Carrie Newcomer — and I started thinking about how grateful I am that I’m not alone in trying to find those things which make life better in the moment. For me, this morning — it’s thinking about a hug goodnight from one daughter who is home from college and a phone call from the other who is still far away — warm slippers on a cold floor — my hands wrapped around a hot cup of coffee in the quiet morning — and a place, like my WordPress account, where I can account for it all.