The Happy Jar 2020

On 1st January 2016 we began what has turned out to be a new family tradition: the Happy Jar.

The Happy Jar started out as just a fun activity to do with the girls and, in truth, I wasn’t sure how long it would capture their attention for although I was hopeful it would last.  The concept is simple: a glass jar; a stack of brightly coloured scraps of paper and a few minutes of time each week spent scribbling down memories of moments of happiness as well as things we’ve felt thankful for, proud of or excited about.  Anything from tickle fights and enjoying a brilliant book to special occasions and holidays can be included – there are no rules.

Documenting joyful moments and things that we’re grateful for is something I believe in really strongly and I wanted to create a practice at home whilst the girls were still young enough that it would become a natural part of their daily lives.  My hope was (and still is) that they might carry it with them as they grow older and perhaps even keep it going if/when they have families of their own.

As the years have rolled on by, the modest idea it started off as has somehow turned into more of a legacy that I want to leave them with – envelopes full of memories that they can look back on one day and remember their childhood with fondness for all the little moments as well as the big ones.

Thankfully the idea took hold and five years later The Happy Jar is still very much in place.

It turns out that 2020 was a year that we needed it more than ever.

2020 was perhaps one of the strangest years that any of us have ever experienced.  One of the most memorable years too, for all sorts of reasons.  Words that never previously existed in my vocabulary – lockdown, social distancing, quarantine, self isolation, shielding, support bubbles, tiered restrictions and global pandemic – have suddenly become ordinary, everyday conversational phrases.

Mandatory masks have obscured people’s faces for months, smiles have gone unseen (is it just me who puts extra effort into smiling with my eyes these days?) and so much uncertainty and judgment has been seeping into the atmosphere.  My working mama role expanded overnight to include ‘distance-learning teacher’ and we stayed home as much as possible, as instructed.

It felt like a year where much was lost for so many people: planned celebrations; travel adventures; family gatherings; education; time with friends; income; jobs; businesses; relationships; mental and physical health; freedom and lives.

It also felt like a year where (depending on circumstances of course) much was also gained.  Extra time with our children and partners, the opportunity to try out home-schooling, the chance to slow down, new perspectives on what actually really-and-truly matters in life, a shift in the work-life balance or perhaps even the evolution of a completely new way of working, strength and resilience…

It feels odd that the two such extreme opposites can co-exist and yet here we are.

I debated for a while about even writing this post.   With so much devastation scattering the globe and fear still very much in place, it seemed almost frivolous to celebrate the small things.  Plus I didn’t want to upset anyone who has been (or maybe even still is) in a more difficult situation than us.  The ‘same storm, different boats’ analogy is a meaningful one and I wanted to be mindful that our boat, whilst it’s certainly been a bumpy ride with some big waves, hasn’t capsized when I know that a lot of people are barely keeping their heads above the water.

Finding joy in the little things and looking at things from a different perspective is what I’m good at though, and I knew that it was going to be more important than ever in such a challenging time.  I work really hard on a daily basis to actively seek out the positives and have done so throughout the entirety of this worldwide crisis.  I wanted to teach my girls to be grateful for all the good things that the year brought us at the same time as acknowledging the difficult parts.

And so week after week and month after month I diligently continued to add my little happy notes to the jar that sits quietly and unassumingly on the kitchen side, tucked in a corner in between a baleful-looking ceramic chicken and the crumb-covered toaster.  I encouraged the girls to keep adding notes of their own as well, regularly setting the jar, colourful paper and a selection of pens down on the table in front of them as they ate their meals and did their school work.

Slowly, the jar filled as the months marched onwards, a rainbow of joy gradually appearing.  By the time December finally came around the space inside was perhaps three-quarters occupied with notes.  Not as full or tightly packed as usual for sure, but definitely more in there than I’d anticipated.

We typically open the Happy Jar on New Year’s Eve – that’s been our tradition since the very beginning.  This time though, no-one really felt like doing it.  We left it a week, then two, then a whole month.  Finally, on the first weekend in February, we sat down together and opened it.  It was almost as if we’d needed that extra time to process and accept the fact that actually, 2021 hasn’t really started off any differently to how 2020 ended, even though we’d hoped things would be better.

As the notes spilled out, a river of memories cascading across the bed, we were reminded of so many things we’d done that we had completely forgotten about. Rainbow chalks in the garden during first lockdown.  Painting kindness rocks.  The beautiful wildflowers in bloom down the trail we walked along on an almost daily basis during lockdown #1.  ‘PE with Joe’ family workouts in the lounge.  Taking Lola for her very first horse-riding lesson (pre-pandemic because yes, there were a couple of months where things were completely normal!).  Quizzes and treasure hunts created by the girls.  Lola’s tumour and the operation she had – wide awake – to remove it.  The relief we all felt when the biopsy showed it was benign.

All three girls had added notes about their birthdays and Christmas which just goes to show that there really doesn’t need to be any extravagance to make something memorable – quiet celebrations can mean just as much.  Slowing down and enjoying simple pleasures made plenty of appearances too – things like playing in the garden with the hose and sprinkler during the much-enjoyed spell of hot weather, watching movies as a family and having having indoor snowball fights.

We talked a lot about the trips to Bude we were lucky enough to squeeze in between lockdowns.  I’m so glad we were able to make them happen.  Bude is very much a part of the fabric of our family – to have not been able to go would have been unthinkable.

Most notably, the majority of the notes were to do with people.  The girls seeing their friends during the short couple of months they were actually at school during the autumn term.  Me seeing my friends at ClickAway in Atlanta (I made it home just a few days before the world went into lockdown for the very first time).  The couple of times we’ve been able to see my parents, Neil’s parents and Sophie, all socially distanced of course.  Two of my friends having babies.  Having the uninterrupted quality time with the girls that we would never usually have the opportunity to embrace or enjoy.  Having Neil home with us so much after decades of long shifts at work.

Opening our Happy Jar is so much more than reminiscing.  It’s a way of connecting with each other at a deeper level, of knowing each other and loving each other better.  It’s a way of actively teaching the girls that there is always light in the darkness, that there is always a glimmer of hope, that there is always something good to notice even in the midst of challenging circumstances.  I hope it’s a lesson that they hold onto throughout their lives.

I’m optimistic that together we can fill 2021 with more of these moments that matter.  Moments of togetherness.  Moments of saying yes to opportunities – ones that randomly come our way and ones that we create for ourselves.  Moments of travel and adventures (fingers crossed there will be many more than in 2020!).  Moments of simple, everyday, ordinary fun.

Filling our year, filling our happy jar, filling our memories and filling our hearts.

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