Filling My Jar

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”  ~ Unknown

Grateful Grateful GratefulAt the start of this year, I decided to create a “happiness jar” to fill with reports of the good things that happened to me on a day-to-day basis.  This might be things like a ride to work or help with groceries, or the offer of assistance with trimming the trees in my yard.  The gifts could be material or spiritual.  They could be big things or small things, but admittedly, I want to focus on the small and mundane things that bring me happiness.  The things we all take for granted.  I need to be reminded:

Take Nothing For Granted.

Things like my mom’s voice — sounding like herself — on the phone.  Things like a lightly used jacket for my dog, Belly.  These are things I need to really see and acknowledge as they appear in my life.  So much of the time we miss the small moments.  We miss them because our eyes are on the horizon, waiting for a steamship full of treasure that we imagine will finally make us content. Instead, we would do better to focus on the often invisible gifts of kindness, grace, love.

Moments of grace:  

Eating an orange I grew in my backyard.  Tossing a spinach salad that I carefully put together with apples and walnuts and dried cranberries and red grapes.  Drizzling the whole thing with poppy seed dressing and serving it in my cobalt blue glass bowl.  Using the cloth napkins my mom made me for my 43rd birthday.  The ones with bright red apples and green branches on the fabric.

Although new possessions sometimes catch my eye, I find I want to use what I already have before I go out looking for more.  This is a change that is the result of growing older.  It is also a collective change that is happening to those of us who are awake and willing to examine it.

Most of us (in industrialized Western nations) have mountains of material things we don’t even use. For example, although I rarely paint my nails, I have a rather large collection of nail polish I bought over the past ten years.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps I liked the idea of painting my nails or I thought that if I had a wide array of choices, I would actually paint my nails.  The truth is, the colors were glowing and iridescent, like warm fireflies, and I wanted how that made me feel.

I know now I was looking for something to fill up the empty feeling I had about my life at the time.  I thought stuff would fill me up.  I was wrong.



Three years ago, I went bankrupt.  It is public record, so it is no secret. I am not ashamed of it.  I did what was best for me and I did it with absolute integrity. From 2000 – 2002, I was unemployed (with the exception of some temporary and contract/freelance work) and I came out of that with a mountain range of bills.  I tried to pay off those bills — valiantly — for about six years after I started to work again, but the interest rates were too high for me to ever pay them off — and I was realistically just digging a deeper and deeper hole with each day that passed.  I finally went to see an attorney who — bless his heart — reached across his desk and told me it would be OK.   “You are not a bad person.  You are in over your head.  I can help you.”

And over the following year, he did just that.  He helped me.  But I did most of the work.  I inventoried my whole home, top to bottom.  I had to count every plate, knife, spoon and article of clothing.  Every book and every throw pillow.  It became clear how much useless stuff I’d bought over the years.  A more prudent person would have put that money in a 401K (or at least a trip to Asia or a graduate program in psychology), not into a large book collection. However, regret is a completely worthless emotion.  The fact of the matter is, I needed to go through that particular experience at that particular time.  I needed to become a deeper, more spiritually grounded person.  I needed to stop obsessing about money and keeping up with the elusive (and non-existent) Joneses.

So, I cut up all my credit cards, refinanced my student loan, and began to live strictly on what I make. I got rid of cable TV because, you know what, I don’t need it.  I shopped with a grocery list and took the bus everywhere.  I determined that if I wanted to travel at all, I had to do so in cash. Everything had to be paid for in advance. I’ve done this for three years now, and although I still don’t have an emergency fund, I do have everything I need.  My pantry is full, the heat is on, my pets are fed, and I am grateful.  Every day.

Do I have everything I want?  No.

But I do have everything I need.


So. Getting back to this notion of gratitude and making a note of the good things that happen, I have started to add little slips of colored paper to my jar.

The idea is to add to the jar throughout the year, and then on New  Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day next year) open it, and read the notes describing all the blessings you have received during the previous twelve months. We do this to celebrate what we often forget to acknowledge or see.  I look forward to reading these notes to myself.

I have lots of personal and professional goals for 2013, but the biggest one is to simply enjoy each day.

Make everyday count.

My mother’s recent illness has reminded me that time is not guaranteed to any of us.  So, write a new poem.  Make a pot roast with root vegetables. Clean up the house, if you must, but don’t obsess.

Will you remember that particular line you thought of as you ate soft boiled eggs and bacon for breakfast, if you don’t jot it down now?

Does it matter if your kitchen is dirty if your heart is full?

We won’t remember any of the stuff of our lives when they are over.  What we will take back into the mysterious, dark, delicious soup of life and death, is the fullness of our souls.

Material things cannot travel there.  Only a great, full heart.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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