As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, it’s time we were completely honest with ourselves. We should be thankful 24/7, 365 days per year but, sometimes (okay, most of the time), gratefulness requires a concerted effort. With mil life being a lifestyle where anything and everything often can and does go wrong, it isn’t always that easy to remember to be grateful for the things we do have.
When I think about that concept, though, – that thankfulness does not always come automatically – I often recall an exchange I had with my spouse shortly after we married.
We were unpacking boxes after our first PCS, when I came across an item I felt compelled to show him. “You’re in here,” I said to him. I held up a clear jar and shook it, rattling the pieces of paper inside around so that they plinked softly against the glass. He looked at me blankly, blinking his eyes, head cocked to the side. So I explained.
What I was holding was my “jar of gratefulness”. A jar of gratefulness is a jar you fill with scraps of paper on which you’ve written things/events/milestones for which you’re grateful. More often, I would write down things I hoped and prayed would come to fruition and offered thanks in advance for their manifestation. In that way, the jar takes the idea of a vision board up a notch, surpassing the idea that putting things out into the vast universe causes them to manifest, and crossing the bridge into faith.
Where it all began.
I started my first jar of gratefulness before I became a military spouse. It took six months and a bout of much-needed self-reflection for me to become serious about what was to essentially become an exercise in faith. I became a serious believer when I wrote down a set of impossible criteria for what I desired in a partner, put it in the jar and met my husband before that year’s end.
The jar was my companion as we dated, married, and then weathered his decision to join the military as a chaplain and my decision to accompany him and leave my law firm. The jar has accompanied us on every PCS since.
While I kept that particular piece of “husband” paper in the jar as a keepsake, the other strips rotated out as I made maintaining the jar a mindfulness activity, consciously adding new things to it for which I was grateful. Big things (like a safely arrived shipment of household goods or finding a job at a new duty station), small things, accomplishments, failures – it didn’t matter. I forced myself to find joy and thanks in everything by writing it down and adding it to the jar.
I did this so much, in fact, that one day, I discovered I didn’t need the jar anymore.
I’d made gratefulness a habit. And making gratefulness a habit is the end game here.
Creating your own jar of gratefulness.
Here’s what you’ll need to create your own jar of gratefulness:
• A mason jar or similar vessel. If you’re fancy, you can spend your money at a craft store for a mason jar or you can be “from scratch crafty” (i.e. cheap/frugal) like me and use an empty, clean pasta jar.
• Slips of paper, sticky notes, note cards.
• A pen or sharpie (or colored gel pens if you’re feeling nostalgic).
• Decorations – glitter, glue, ribbon, etc. Again, craft stores are your friend.
Once your jar is suitably decorated:
• Write your wishes/goals on strips of paper in pen (to signify permanency) as though they had already come to pass. Offer thanks in advance for the blessings to come.
• Be as specific as possible.
• Don’t forget to offer thanks for things that have already happened too. (E.g. in addition to scraps of paper, my jar also held items like ticket stubs).
• Don’t neglect your jar of gratefulness. Anytime you feel yourself slipping, force yourself into a state of gratitude by utilizing your jar.
Military life can be difficult. I don’t have to tell you that. And sometimes, amidst the PCS moves, job changes, unemployment and separation from family and friends, gratefulness is relegated to the back burner.
Making gratitude a deliberate and physical act, though, can help us combat the negative feelings that accompany change. We then allow ourselves to develop healthy habits that will preserve us as we navigate this military life.