The gratitude jar

thank you spelled out in wooden blocks on a table, with soft white lights in the background.
image: iStock

The word gratitude has its roots in the Latin, gratia, for grace, gracefulness, or gratefulness.

It can mean different things to different people. It can be something you think about on purpose. It can be an emotion you feel. It can be a personality trait – a grateful person. It can be a habit one gets into – an attitude of gratitude. 

But even though it’s imagined differently, we mostly all agree about what it means. To be thankful.

Thank you. I appreciate you. I am grateful for this thing or experience.

Gratitude can also be a practice; something we intentionally do on a regular basis, like one might practice any skill. And just as practicing a skill makes you better at it, gratitude has some very positive consequences.

One is that it helps us see the world more brightly.

Blessings vs Burdens

One of my favourite gratitude studies examined the impact of gratitude on mental and physical wellbeing. In the study, volunteers were asked to focus on either things that they were grateful for or things they felt hassled by, to make a comparison between the two attitudes.

After two weeks of doing this each day, the result was clear. Counting blessings had made them happier. Counting hassles had made them feel worse.

How to practice gratitude

There’s lots of ways you can practice gratitude. You can do what the research studies typically do and make a list of things each day that you’re grateful for; from the people in your life, the weather, your job, to things people have said or done, to good TV programmes you’ve watched, etc.

Or you can do what some other people do; just before you get out of bed in the morning, spend a minute or two mentally listing things in your mind. Many feel it sets their day off on a positive note. Some people do this last thing at night instead and fall asleep contemplating their blessings of the day. Some feel it helps them sleep better.

The Irving Berlin song, Count Your Blessings, from the film White Christmas and beautifully sung by Bing Crosby, which won the academy award for best song in 1954, recommends it. The song begins with the lines, 

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep

I count my blessings instead of sheep.

You can vary your practice too so you’re not always focusing on the same things or in the same way. Rather than focus on general things, for example, your gratitude practice one day might list all the reasons why you appreciate a certain person being in your life and how they’ve impacted on you. 

Another day might focus on listing a person’s positive qualities. On another day, you might focus on your own positive qualities. Another day could see you focus on aspects of your body that you’re grateful for. You could even list past things that you are grateful had happened.

You can be infinitely creative. The world will always show up things to be grateful for. All you have to do is look.

Some people simply cultivate an attitude of gratitude in their day-to-day life. Rather than a structured practice, they train themselves to see blessings in life as they go about their day. 

And the more they train, the easier it is to see and contemplate things they’re grateful for, thus the more they see and the better they feel. In time, gratitude becomes a habit, and life as a consequence takes on a tone of having a little extra sunshine in the background.

In the long term, gratitude becomes a habit. Feeling appreciative becomes a natural and quickly-accessed state. Feeling good becomes a natural consequence.

Of course, having an attitude of gratitude doesn’t mean a person can never have a bad day or go through difficult times in their lives. Life happens. But what a gratitude practice can do is to take some of the sting out of seemingly stressful events. It can build resilience and lessen the impact of negative situations. The same things happen, but the resilience through gratitude helps you weather things better.

The Gratitude Jar

One of my favourite gratitude exercises is The Gratitude Jar.

A lady who attended one of my talks once told me about it. It was an idea she and her husband had one year for a gratitude practice that could involve their children.

At the start of the year, they put a large jar in the hallway and some pieces of paper and a pen beside it. Each time they or one of their kids felt grateful for something, they would write it down, fold the paper, and put it in the jar.

It really encouraged the kids. They took to it with enthusiasm and in the process learned the meaning of gratitude and what it feels like.

At the end of the year – either on Christmas Eve or Hogmanay – they would open the jar and share out the notes. Then they would take turns to read out loud what was written on each piece of paper.

It created laugher, awe, its own gratitude, and sometimes tears.

I can’t believe you noticed that,” “I didn’t know you thought that way,” were said, along with things like, “I was just being myself,” and “I did it because I love you.” Scraps of paper brought back memories of words spoken, small kindnesses given, lifts to football and gymnastics practice, a recognition of the way Mum smiles when she walks through the door.

The jar (well, two jars actually as they filled the first) was filled with a years’ worth of love and kind observations, mostly forgotten until a small piece of paper was read aloud.

It’s my favourite gratitude practice, first, because it teaches children what gratitude is and why it’s important. But also, as we are reminded to seek the good rather than the bad, the light instead of the dark, our minds are naturally drawn to the goodness and endearing qualities in those around us and the many gifts life has to offer. 

These qualities and gifts have always been there. But in the busyness of life, we sometimes just forget to notice.

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  1. Jen on November 18, 2022 at 8:43 am

    Thank you. Your blog made me smile. Love the idea of a gratitude jar.

    • David Hamilton on November 18, 2022 at 9:03 am

      Thanks Jen. Me too. We’re going to start one on the 1st January this year. 🙂

  2. Caroline Swinburne on November 18, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Such a lovely blog. Gratitude is powerful. When my anxious son was little, and couldn’t sleep, we would play the glad game (as from the film Pollyanna). He would think of the goo parts of his day and settle to sleep. Over the years I have worked with many children and often ask them to tell me what makes their hearts happy. Our Happy Hearts practice has revlealed many things that children have noticed that we may have felt were overlooked. I love a gratitue jar or a thank you note written on the fridge white board.

  3. Cheryl Mondorf on November 18, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    I’m grateful for you Dr. Hamilton and all I’ve learned through your books, podcasts and blogs. Please come to America!

  4. Vania Yotova on November 18, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you, thank you for this post. It was what I needed right now!
    I read your posts, they help me when I’m low and give me hope. Thank you again!
    Many blessings from South America!

    • David Hamilton on November 23, 2022 at 10:02 am

      It’s so nice to hear that my posts give you hope. 🙂 Thanks.

  5. Wendy mcdougall on November 18, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    Just beautiful. I’ve read about gratitude logs, jars, etc. for many years and can’t help but get cross with myself as I never see them through even though the evidence is there that this is good for your body and your soul!! Okay, I’m going in again! My first thank you will go to you and I also want to say I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad

  6. Jenny on November 19, 2022 at 9:41 am

    I truly loved that blog. It is just so very simple to create a space for the positive that can have a huge impact on how we choose to feel.
    Thank you David. X

    • David Hamilton on November 23, 2022 at 9:59 am

      Thanks Jenny. It’s amazing how such simple things can often produce such significant results. 🙂

  7. Mairead on November 19, 2022 at 10:42 am

    A great idea. I’m going to do it with the children I teach for December. Thank you.

  8. Sue Rotheram on November 20, 2022 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you for this and I will certainly try to practice gratitude on a daily basis now instead of just now and then.
    Also thank you for your most recent,
    wonderful book. I have just finished reading it and found it fascinating and inspiring.

  9. Jayne Blundell on November 21, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    Thank You David wise words s usual
    Sending Reiki Love for your Loss x

  10. Mary McManus on November 27, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    Love this David and how you always incorporate the science to inspire us. During the pandemic we kept a gratitude jar for 30 days in November and on Thanksgiving we read what we had written. We are going to start a gratitude jar in the new year!

    • David Hamilton on November 30, 2022 at 11:17 am

      Thanks Mary. That was such a good idea to keep a gratitude jar through November during the pandemic!! It must have been so rewarding to read all the gratitudes on Thanksgiving. We’re starting one in the new year too. 🙂

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