Sukkot may be the holiday when I de-clutter and get things out of my life, but on Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, I make sure to pay attention to my stuff.
We are at the start of the season when every store, television commercial, and radio jingle reminds us that we are supposed to let other people know how much we appreciate them… by buying them things. I’m not against the occasional Hanukkah present for my kids or tipping some of the hardworking and often underappreciated people in my life during the holiday season, but this year I am trying to focus on what I have and appreciating how lucky I am before I add to my collection of “things.” And I’m making my family join me.
I read recently that writing down what you’re grateful for every day can be transformative. In addition to cultivating an ongoing sense of gratitude and respect for our belongings and privileges, apparently the practice of putting pen to paper while thinking of how grateful we are can also lead to higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy throughout the day. That sounds pretty good to me.
While I’ve read a lot in the past year about the benefits of practicing mindfulness and gratitude, it’s not always clear how to integrate both into a busy family life. So this month I decided to try out a “Gratitude Jar” with my family. A parenting expert I know gave me the idea–it’s supposed to help a family collectively write down what everyone is grateful for and share the results with one another. I’m also secretly hoping it helps open my kids’ eyes to just how lucky they are in a season when they are encouraged to expect (and sometimes demand) new and exciting things despite the fact that all of their needs are more than met year round. Of course my husband and I could use a good reminder of that, too.
One morning at the beginning of November, I simply placed an empty jar on the breakfast table labeled “Family Gratitude Jar” with instructions to write down something you are grateful for at least once a day and place it in the jar. I added that we will read all of the notes together on Thanksgiving and gave the example that I was grateful my daughter Jesse had a good doctor’s visit the day before and is healthy.
My family didn’t skip a beat or even ask questions when they saw the jar. We’ve just been writing things down every morning. The jar is now more than halfway full. We usually write something down at breakfast time but lately I’ve been going to the jar whenever the mood strikes, often multiple times a day. I’ve found that I often go to the jar when I’m upset about something. It’s a good coping strategy and helps to move my mood away from the problem I’ve just faced or the argument I’ve just had, to a place of thankfulness for the other parts of my life that are going smoothly.
While I never have a problem coming up with something to be grateful for in the morning, I now challenge myself to look beyond the things that first come to mind–like food or health or family–and think about the specifics. For example, I love that I have a place to call home but more specifically, I am so glad that I have my kitchen. Just looking at it makes me happy because it’s bright and cheery and I love that I have the privilege of cooking for my family in such a well-equipped space. Sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger house or a different neighborhood but when I look around at my kitchen, I realize how lucky I am to have this space. It reminded me of a piece I read this summer from a mom-blogger who gave her kitchen a gratitude makeover. It didn’t cost her a thing.
Technically we aren’t supposed to read what’s in the Gratitude Jar until Thanksgiving, but for the purposes of this piece, I decided to sneak a peek at just a handful. It warmed my heart to read that my 6-year-old is grateful for her school, her sister, and for pumpkin yogurt. I loved learning that my husband is grateful for my contributions to our family.
In the past I’ve always spent a lot of time during the holidays thinking about all of the things I want. And maybe this year I will find time to put together a list, but so far I’m really enjoying the gift of appreciating what I have.