Sometimes it’s hard to see the bright side. When you’ve had a rough day, it’s hard to see past the bad. Things seem to pile into a mountain of ick, especially when your world view is pint-sized. You had a fight with your BFF; your team lost the dodgeball game; you skinned your knee during recess; you weren’t picked to tell a story during class; and the “bad” things seem to outweigh the good.
My son can be extremely hard on himself and sometimes struggles to see life’s positives. As a glass-half-full mom, I want him to see that even on the tough days, there are reasons to smile. To help, I tried including “highs and lows” in our dinner conversations: “Tell me one high from today and one low.” All I got was “I don’t remember,” or “I can’t think of anything,” which only increased my frustration and didn’t help either of us focus on the good.
We have bedtime talks, so I tried adding, “Tell me one good thing about today,” or “What’s one thing that was good that happened today?” as we snuggled. Cue the same responses I heard at the dinner table.
Let’s face it: while our problems can be bigger, there are days when it’s hard for adults to keep a positive perspective, too. The idea that no matter what happens, there’s more good than bad, so let’s focus on the better and let the not-so-good go, can be hard.
So I started bottling happiness. (Not really, because if I could, I’d be a millionaire.) Without telling anyone, I started writing down the good. When he had a “win,” no matter how big or small, I jotted it down and slipped it into a big jar on top of our refrigerator. I focused on anything that brought smiles, scribbling the date and whatever the memory was.
Then I opened the jar. One night at dinner, I dumped the slips of paper on the table and starting reading them. And everyone smiled.
As we sat together, we remembered fun times, laughed at things we’d done, and celebrated the good. Sure, there were things in the jar like a trip to a theme park and plane trips to visit long-distance family. But the bulk of the tiny slips of happiness—and the things that brought us the most joy remembering—were the little things that we so often gloss over: Running into a friend at the park. Reading a new book. Snuggling during a favorite movie. Seeing lightning bugs at sunset. Sharing s’mores for dessert. Little things that outweigh the bad. That’s the happiness that gets you through the day.
Now, he tells me things to write down, or asks if I remembered to put something into the jar. My heart leaps every time because it means that he’s noticing the good, capturing those memories himself, and seeing the bright side. That old cookie jar, a treasured memento from my grandmother, is now a jar of happiness that we can open anytime we need a smile.
Some people call it jar of gratitude, others call it a collection of moments or memories. Believe me, if you Google it, a million Pinterest boards will pop up. And it turns out that a jar of gratitude was once one of Oprah’s favorite things.
I promise I really had no idea how unoriginal I was being. I was simply looking for a way to gather good and share it. Because we all need happiness.
If you are having trouble staying on the bright side, try it. Don’t worry about a time frame—you don’t have to document a year. Try a season, a month, or even a week. Just do it. Scribble what makes your day good. Record what made a week fabulous. Give yourself the time to capture whatever brings a smile. Does it matter that it might just be Taco Tuesday? No. Family game night, an afternoon of riding bikes, whatever brought joy into your lives. Grab those memories and use them to show the wonder of every day. Sprinkle in trips to the zoo, the park, or play dates. Stir in smiles, laughs, and giggles. Do whatever works for you.
For our jar, I didn’t get all Pinterest-y, though you certainly can. The jar you use, the paper you choose, the pens you might write things with—the sky is the limit. But I find simple is easiest when I’m trying to stick to something. Our jar itself makes me smile because it belonged to my grandmother, but to anyone else, it’s nothing special. It sits on top of the fridge, filled with scribbled memories in boring old ink or pencil on bits of scrap paper. But the happiness inside makes those scraps glimmer and shine and reminds us that there’s more to life than skinned knees or forgotten homework.