The jar sits on our dinner table along with a stack of little slips of paper and a pen. When I sit down at the table, alone or with others, my first thought is what I appreciate from that day. I pause, pick up the pen and fill out a couple of pieces with a word or phrase and put them in our appreciation jar.
Initially, I thought the idea would help me to be more aware of the blessings that I received each day. I knew it wasn’t likely that other family members would be really gung-ho about it but maybe I could at least plant a seed to encourage the attitude of gratitude.
You see, my family did not naturally notice most of the good things that happened to us. Both my husband and I come from families whose total cumulative count for relational brain skills was zero. Yes, that’s right. Nada. Nula. Nola. None. Negativity ran deep in our genes, along with addictive patterns and mental illness. We had little in the way of secure attachments or modeling for healthy relationships. We started from scratch and made a lot of mistakes on our journey.
Learning to find what I call the “kisses from God” has been a game changer for me.
I have trained myself over the past three years to seek out each day the many gifts that God strews along my path and thank Him for them. Not only did I become more positive, I saw it changing my relationship with God by helping me stay more connected to Him during difficult times. I also noticed that as I became more appreciative of other people they wanted to be around me more than when I was negative.
It wasn’t that there was a lack of things to be negative about. I can look at the last two weeks of my life and count… the water heater burst, we are down to one car between my husband and I, he didn’t get the promotion we were expecting, the dog had a pancreatitis attack, the roof is leaking in three places and we are having the heaviest rain we have had for 35 years… yes, there are plenty of things I could be negative about right now. But I have stopped making those lists in my head. Instead, I have instant access to the list of the blessings I have received. I have experienced several supernatural physical healings this week, I had a great time on a girls’ weekend with some of my closest friends, I get to finally finish and paint the walls of an ugly, dirty laundry room that I have lived with for 26 years, my dog has recovered well and is my little cuddle bear, and I get to spend time doing crafts with my daughters this weekend. In all honesty, it is easier to think of the good things now than it is the bad ones.
The appreciation jar was an inspiration.
I heard about it somewhere and thought it could be a new family ritual. We started it January 1st, 2016 and fed it regularly. As I became more adept at looking for the blessings in my life, I got bolder as I talked with family members. When someone went more than 10 minutes on negative subjects I would interject, “so, what do you appreciate today?” At first I got awkward pauses, funny faces, and even eye rolls. But they got used to it and even began to offer their appreciations without being asked. We took time on Thanksgiving to do our annual “Thank You” list and I noticed that our appreciations came much more easily this year. At Christmas, we all shared from memory some of our most memorable blessings from the past 12 months.
On New Year’s Eve of 2016, my husband and I emptied out the jar. The kids were all out of town with other family. Lou and I had a quiet, gourmet, homemade dinner with candlelight and then divided the papers between the two of us. We started taking turns reading them out loud. 90% of the slips were in my handwriting, as I had expected. “Joy smiles,” read one. “Good books,” was another. “Our daughter getting a full-time job,” was a third. “A healthy septic tank,” said one in my husband’s handwriting. “Lou fixing the toilet,” I had written. “Walks in the Redwoods.” “New opportunities.” “Our church.” “Living near the ocean.” On it went. Back and forth.
When we were finished we were awash in oxytocin and smiles.
We had relived a whole year’s worth of amazing moments. Our relational circuits were roaring and our hearts were full.
“We’ve GOT to share this with the kids!” I exclaimed. “Yes,” Lou agreed.
Later that week we all met for coffee. I brought all the appreciation slips in an envelope. We opened it up and dumped them all out on the table in the coffee shop. This time we divided them into five piles and went around the table, taking turns reading them out loud. There was laughter. Chrissy said “Oh, how neat!” Matt, our son-in-law said, “I remember that!” Alicia commented, “That was so great!” Again, we relived God’s kisses in our lives from 2016. At the end my husband exclaimed, “we just made another joy memory!”
It felt funny to start over again on January 1st with an empty jar. I wondered what kind of gifts the year ahead would hold as I put my first slip of paper in. It said “having breakfast with Alicia.” Then, another one was added. It says, “Mommy making me breakfast.” “Sunshine after a LOT of rain!” “Lou putting vent covers over the holes in the shed (where the rats were getting in!).”
Chrissy and Matt found a jar that is now sitting on their dining room table. That brought a smile to my face! Alicia moved out last week and told me that she brought a jar along with her to her new place. “A jar?” I asked. “Yes, an appreciation jar!” she said. “Oh, a JAR!”
I think 2017 is going to be a very good year, no matter what happens, because we will remember the blessings and share them together to create another joy memory.
In the end, that’s all that matters.
What does “neurotheology” mean? Dr. Andrew Newberg wrote Principles of Neurotheology and was interviewed by NPR in 2010. He called neurotheology “the relationship between the