The Happiness Jar

A new year often inspires us to take stock, get organized, and make positive changes.  For me, a New Year calls for a clean desk. The clutter and piles of “to do” stacks all about my workstation make me feel as if I’m drowning, and if I am to accomplish anything on my resolution list, a clean desk is necessary to set the stage for productivity. I began by cleaning drawers and tossing flyers, notes and coupons that were obsolete. I collected technology gadgets, extra mouses and staplers and carted them to David’s office. Eventually I moved on to the surface of the desk where an extra monitor, printer and other devices fight for prime-time space.

On one corner of the desk sat a dusty, large yellow jar that I assigned my “happiness jar” on Jan. 1, 2017. We made Happiness jars as an art project in a New Year’s Day retreat and I decided to practice what I preach and placed mine prominently on my then clean desk. When inspired, I’d write on a note pad a quick message to acknowledge a moment in time that brought me happiness, then fold and drop the little secret into the jar. As the months rolled by, the jar filled with dozens of little folded notes expressing positive waves of emotion. But the jar has been long since forgotten because I stopped adding content somewhere in early 2018. Over time, my happiness jar stopped serving as a beacon to remind me of my full and satisfying life and the little yellow jar became just one more thing that was taking up space on my desk, detracting from my functionality.

Glancing at that dusty glass vase, I decided to toss the thing, but considering the time I devoted to writing each of those little notes stuffed inside, unceremoniously dumping it in the trash felt wrong. And how inauthentic would a teacher be who lectured students about the value of a happiness jar, telling them that revisiting the messages was as important as the affirmation of writing them, yet too lazy to fulfill the intention of the project herself? Feeling duty bound to check at least a few of the notes within, I unfolded one message and smiled. I’d written about the day I received my first phone call from my daughter in Air force boot camp. She had gushed about her feelings of accomplishment and pride, and I was so relieved and delighted that she was happy with her choice of career path, I honored the moment with a “happiness note”.

Might as well check out another note, I thought. Now, a bit more eagerly, I unfolded another paper. This one was penned on the day I made reservations to take my husband to Key West for a much-needed short vacation. I wowed in that note to change our life and put “us” in priority more often. That little weekend away was symbolic of my resolution to try to travel a bit to escape the constant on-call duty that is a part of running a retreat center. I smiled, remembering the romance and relaxation we enjoyed on that trip, and reveled in the fact that we’ve taken several other vacations since then– to Ireland, to Texas, to San Francisco with all my children, and even a few quiet, nature filled RV camping trips. I actually stuck to the intention I made that day, and here in my hand was testament to the exact moment I made the commitment to bring more balance into our world. Cool.

I would never get to my desk if I just sat here fooling with little notes, but I decided to read just one more and then throw the dang jar out and continue my cleaning project. The next personal message discussed my deep appreciation and gratitude for our yoga community, inspired by individuals who came to aid us in cleanup after Hurricane Irma. There were other notes following that described moments of love and appreciation for my staff, customers and what I do for a living. I had captured memories of visitors walking the labyrinth, sharing poignant personal stories of healing, or thanking us for creating a Chakra garden. Here I was, feeling put out and drained by the endless drudgery of running Heartwood, with nothing but a messy desk to show for it, yet proof that moments of joy and a deepening of my purpose were embedded in every day. I had proof right at my fingertips in the form of little notes jotted down in a hurry and stuffed unceremoniously into a jar.

My messy desk looked differently to me suddenly. Perhaps what at first appears to be chaos is less a sign of someone drowning in work and more a testament to an active life. I work hard, yet I live my purpose and my world is filled with endless diversity and unexpected connections that are a part of this place of healing and learning.

At this point, I couldn’t resist revisiting every single note just to look back and recall last season’s small pleasures. The notes served as inspiration and opportunity to realign my attitude. For an hour, I unfolded notes, reliving moments of happiness or poignant joy that had long since been forgotten.

I don’t know exactly when or why I stopped filling the happiness jar. Joyful moments didn’t disappear from my life, but busy with the daily drudgery of tasks, I think I simply felt too overwhelmed to take even the few seconds needed to jot a sentence down to stuff in a jar. I now began imagining all the wonderful moments I didn’t capture just because I got too busy to reflect, even in a small “happiness jar” project sort of way.

Crouched at my messy desk on a cold afternoon with students passing to and fro behind me as they went about their training, I finished reading all the notes. Perhaps I should have made more of a ceremonial event out of the reading endeavor, going over them with a glass of wine on New Year’s eve sitting in the center of the labyrinth or something.  Nowadays, the big reveal of the contents of a happiness jar is the fodder of an Instagram worthy event, romanticized and captured with a selfie to show the world how very spiritually evolved one is. But rather than trying to capture the moment as it occurred, I just experienced it, quietly, alone in my thoughts at a messy desk, learning something about myself.

I never did throw the jar away. I didn’t get around to cleaning my desk either. At this time, my desk is still a mess, and lo and behold, the empty jar has been placed back in the corner. I must be making progress, because I did manage to dust it off. The jar sits empty, awaiting another round of captured moments which I am ready and willing to collect once again. We all need reminders that life is filled with blessings big and small. All we need is to acknowledge them now and again, mindfully and with an understanding that sometimes we are truly aware and awake. At other times our awareness slips away as distractions separate us from our true nature. What is important is to acknowledge our slips and get back on the path. Happiness doesn’t really live in little notes in a jar, but in our hearts, always at the ready for another unfolding.        

Author: Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Retreat Center. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing fro Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College.