Four years ago, on the 1st January 2016, I spontaneously decided to start a Happy Jar. The idea was loosely based on the concept of a ‘gratitude jar’ that I’d seen in a meme online a few weeks beforehand. It seemed like a fun activity for the girls and I to do together and I figured we’d try it for the one year and that would be it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The girls (aged 9, 7 and a half and 6 years old at the time) LOVED it. I never would have imagined that this simple little idea would have taken hold in the way it did. Fast forward to now and it has ended up developing into a true family tradition that I really, really love.
We begin every year with an empty glass jar which stands on the side in the kitchen. Stored next to it is a stack of brightly coloured pieces of paper and a pen. As the days, weeks and months go by we all scribble down little notes about things that have made us happy, or that we’ve felt proud of, or excited about and we fold them up and pop them in the jar. They can be absolutely anything from a friend coming round for dinner or going to see a movie that we really enjoyed, all the way up to moments to remember from holidays and special occasions.
I love seeing the jar gradually fill up throughout the year, a literal rainbow of joy slowly appearing.
At the very end of the year, on New Year’s Eve, we open the jar. The husband is usually at work so it’s become a thing that the girls and I do together. We settle down somewhere comfy, they have one final chance to make any last minute contributions (there are usually at least a couple) and then we each take it in turns to pick out a note and read it out loud.
It always takes ages as each one tends to spark off a conversation or questions about whatever is written on the note. I truly believe it helps me get to know each of my girls better every single year – I find out what things they value, what matters most to them and get a glimpse into their love languages.
I find it absolutely fascinating seeing the differences between what each of the girls chooses to document in the jar and the things that make them happy. They’re so individual, unique and independent from each other that the variety in their little notes of scribbled handwriting is huge.
2019 has felt pretty tough in many respects and what I noticed this time was that there were definite common themes between the notes.
One of those themes was the travelling we did and all the trips we took together as a family. Our annual visit to Bude in Cornwall (particularly when we all played cricket on the beach together – we ALL wrote that one down). Our first ever city break in Boston where the overall winning experience was most definitely watching the Red Sox baseball game at their home ground stadium. The beach on Cape Cod. Our weekend stay at Sandybrook Lodge in the Peak District where they loved swimming, playing pool and eating dinner out. A daytrip to the Birmingham ThinkTank Museum. Spending a couple of sunny September days staying with my best friend and her family in Southampton – we consider them to be family and the girls adore their toddler ‘cousin’ and the two dogs.
Travelling with three children who all have very different wants and needs is challenging (and truthfully, in some of the harder moments I wonder why on earth we bother) but it’s so very worth it when I hear that these are the memories that have stayed with them, that we’ve added something to our family story, that these moments have mattered.
Another common thread running through their happy notes was celebrating each others successes. All three of them wrote down about seeing each other stand up and be brave and perform on stage: Ella in a school production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’; Lola taking part in a dance show at the Gatehouse Theatre; and Mimi in the Christmas Spectacular show at school. I love that they support each other like that. It can be so easy to only see the arguments and the bickering on a daily basis, but actually deep down they are fiercely loyal and protective of each other, encourage each other endlessly and love each other without question.
Moving house was the other commonality I spotted. We all felt sad to leave our old house, especially just two weeks before Christmas. After all, we’d lived there for eleven years and had made many memories there. But it was time to move on. The fact that they are all so comfortable in our new home and that they all wrote it down as a positive and happy memory, confirms that we made the right choice and that means a lot.
There were some random ones in there too – a few smiley faces and hearts – plus a couple from Mimi that simply said “I am just happy” without any explanation as to why. I love that she felt able to a/ notice that and b/ document it. All I want in the world is for my girls to be happy (and to know that it’s up to them to create their own happiness) so I can’t even begin to describe how full my heart felt when I read this.
Our Happy Jar ritual is more than just reminiscing. It’s a chance for us to actively reflect on the year gone by. It can be so easy to forget some of the good things that have happened. I lost count of the number of times the girls exclaimed “Oh yeah! I forgot all about that!”.
It can also be easy to always focus on the negatives (especially if they were significant ones) and to write-off an entire year because there were a couple of tough weeks or months. But looking through the Happy Jar reminds us that actually, overall, there have been infinitely more positives than negatives, that some wonderful things have happened and that we’ve shared some really special moments together. I think it helps us all to focus on the positive more and that can only be a good thing. The good ALWAYS outweighs the bad.
I believe it helps to teach the girls to be grateful for all the opportunities they have and also to keep things in perspective and recognise that whilst the ‘big’ things are wonderful, it’s actually the plethora of smaller moments that make up the bulk of the notes and that actually you can be truly happy with the simpler things in life.
I do worry quite a lot that my girls aren’t as happy as they could be, especially this past twelve months. We argue a lot, we’re five very different people who like doing different things, plus 2019 has been a pretty stressful year for all of us one way or another. But this little tradition of ours just fills me up because it’s proof that they are ok. That we are happy. That we don’t need to spend tons of money or be out doing something spectacular every weekend because all they really value is time we spend together doing the most simple things and just ‘being’.
I’m hoping that together we can fill 2020 with more of these moments that matter. Moments of togetherness. Moments of saying yes to opportunities. Moments of travel and adventures. Moments of simple, everyday, ordinary fun.
Filling our year, filling our happy jar, filling our memories and filling our hearts.