2016 was a year full of deep disappointment and overwhelming sadness, for many people. You may have started seeing posts in your social media feeds offering up lists of all the glorious things that also happened in 2016, as if they somehow cancel or balance out all the truly awful things that happened in 2016.
There is no canceling out or balancing. Many wonderful things did happen, and it is good to take note of them, if only to hold our journalists and news publications responsible for the fact that you didn’t hear about the majority of them, because good news doesn’t attract eyeballs and mouse clicks. But taking note of all those things does not, and should not, make it easier to dismiss the grief and anger felt by so many people about the year’s events. It’s not right to try to minimize these real feelings, because they might make you uncomfortable. We are feeling them, they are real, and they cut deeply.
The photo above is my Happiness Jar. Each night (or first thing in the morning) I write one small thing that made me happy that day on a slip of paper, and put it in the jar. I started this ritual last year on January 1, 2016, because I tend to see lots of half-empty glasses around me, and this reminds me that some of them are half-full. As you can see, my Happiness Jar for 2016 was nearly full.
I am not here to tell you that my full Happiness Jar (or my glass of champagne) made me forget how much sadness and frustration, anger and disillusionment, grief and loss and shock I felt, and still carry in my heart, over the events of 2016. That would be a lie, and I won’t tell myself that lie. I also won’t lie to you and say I put a slip of paper in that jar each and every day. Some days I just didn’t have the strength. But I will tell you that my Happiness Jar did help me get through the worst of it, by reminding me to take a moment each day to find one reason to feel hopeful, one reason to feel optimistic, one reason to feel grateful. On the occasions when I simply couldn’t make the mental effort, I allowed myself to have that time to process, but within a day or two, the jar itself sitting on the kitchen counter would start a more positive train of thought.
The Husband, Boy and I had a quiet New Year’s Eve together, watching television together and eating some truly old-school snacks – potato chips and onion dip, tiny pigs in blankets, and frozen taquitos – quite uncharacteristic of us, but flashback-ish and fun. Once midnight arrived and this stupid year was truly behind us, I emptied my Happiness Jar. I enjoyed reading each slip of paper, and revisiting the memories they brought back. Many of them were cooking related, me being pleased with a meal or dish I’d made just right. One of them simply said, “CSA”, and I know it was from the first day of CSA pickups in June, a day that always makes me happy, for many reasons. I was humbled by how many of them said, “Soup Kitchen”, acknowledging how grateful I have been all year to be able to help there. It was fun to share some of them with The Husband and The Boy, letting them know in what small ways they had “made it into the Happiness Jar”, had made life a little bit easier for me, without even knowing it.
I do not make New Year’s Resolutions. They are just self-imposed ways to set myself up for failure when I inevitably cannot keep them. But the Happiness Jar is back on the kitchen counter, with a few slips of paper inside, and I intend to keep it there, and keep putting little bits of happiness in all year. I know it will be full again at the end of the year, and that already makes me feel grateful for my life.
But filling my own Happiness Jar cannot be enough this year. There will be so many people who need so much support in the next year, and I cannot simply sit back and say, “Well, my life’s good, so I’ll just keep my head down and enjoy it.” So I have a new goal for this year, one I know I can meet. Everywhere I go (including online), I will imagine everyone I interact with also has a Happiness Jar on their kitchen counter, and that they all need help filling it. I am going to make an effort to be someone’s slip of paper in their Happiness Jar, when I can, where I can, as much as I can, every day that I can.
What a world it could be, if we all helped each other fill our Happiness Jars, and were not content to simply fill our own. May your year, and your jar, be full of happiness.