How to be happy in the New Year: Keep a Gratitude Jar

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
—Lao Tzu


This month I signed many emails wishing people a Happy New Year. It’s a tradition we practice all over the world at the beginning of the year. Here in Hoi An I get to do it all over again, only this time in Vietnamese.

The lunar New Year is the most important celebration of the year. It’s a noisy 10-day non-stop party with plenty of bad karaoke. It also comes with lots of interesting traditions that are designed to harness good luck and happiness for the new year.

It got me thinking, what can we do to ensure we really do bring more happiness to our lives in the new year?

Here’s a very simple but very effective practice I am going to do this year. I am keeping a gratitude jar.

Why giving gratitude works

Practising gratitude is very popular at the moment – even Oprah swears by her gratitude jar – but it’s not just new age hocus pocus. Scientists tell us that practicing gratitude has the power to re-shape our brains.

Our brains are programmed with an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’. We are hard-wired for bad news. Evolution has shaped our brains to protect ourselves from threats and danger.

Today we no longer have to protect ourselves from wild animals, yet we continue to indulge our inner critic and we tend to focus on what we lack.

If only I had a better job, I’d be happier. If only I had a better body, my life would be better. Sounds familiar? What we have is never enough. Focusing on what we lack will keep us stuck in a negative mindset.

The good news is that our brains are constantly evolving and growing and have the ability to be rewired.

That’s where gratitude comes in. Focussing on what we have rather than on what we lack has to the power re-shape our brains. If we water seeds of gratitude, happiness and a positive mindset will grow.

What’s a gratitude jar?

Like any skill, giving gratitude requires practice and conscious awareness. Keeping a gratitude jar is a way of regularly recording what is abundant and good in our lives.

The idea behind the gratitude jar is simple. You start with an empty jar and each week you add a piece of paper on which you note what you were grateful for that week. At the end of the year you’ll have a full jar and you can look back on all the abundance of that year, even if it was a tough year.

You can of course also do this as a daily practice, but be careful not to be too ambitious. I’ve committed to doing this once a week, because it keeps it simple and manageable.

Writing my weekly gratitude note on a Sunday works best for me. It gives this practice the sense of a weekly ritual and it allows me to conclude the week on a positive note.

I’ve even roped my partner into it. It’s a nice, simple way to bring more happiness and awareness to our relationship.

It also gives us a tangible record of what went well, despite the things that go wrong – and there are plenty of things that make us unhappy as we try to set up an online business.

But amid the chaos and the stress, there is so much that is good and abundant.

Benefits of keeping a gratitude jar

  • It forces you to stop, get off autopilot, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and focus on what’s really important.
  • Giving gratitude, even when things are difficult, puts our first world problems into perspective and brings more humility to life. It asks us to be content with what is. There is always something to be grateful for, even if it’s just that quick coffee break you had with a friend. Or even just the comfort of that frothy cappuccino itself.
  • It gives you a tangible record, 52 pieces of paper (or 365 if you do this daily) of what is good in life, even if you’ve had a tough year.
  • Giving gratitude is a way to focus on what’s positive. Over time it will foster a positive mindset. It makes us happier and more optimistic, which is good for our overall wellbeing
  • It can be a catalyst for change. Focusing on what gives you joy and happiness, can be a great motivator to finally stick that regular exercise routine you’ve tried to implement so many times. I actually record my daily self-care rituals and it’s helped to make me more motivated to jump out of bed and go for that run, rather than turn over and snooze for a bit longer.

My gratitude jar is filled with notes about how grateful I am to be living in Vietnam. That might change after 10 days of karaoke.

In my next post I’ll share my photos of this beautiful and colourful time of the year. Feeling very blessed to be living in a country that celebrates the new year with so much energy and tradition. Thank you Vietnam.


What are you grateful for this week?



4 replies
    • Kerstin
      Kerstin says:

      Thanks for visiting my blog. I am very happy this resonated! Yes, once a week makes it realistic and achievable over the course of 12 months. Happy New Year to you too. Will be interesting to compare notes about this at the end of the year.

  1. Jacki Milbank
    Jacki Milbank says:

    I’ve followed the link from your 21 day writing challenge on Facebook. My aim is to start a blog, once I can work out how to set one up on my ancient lap top, so I’m reading more blogs for research. This is a double whammy for me because I kept a ‘happines’ jar for several years and. I used different coloured papers and pens so it looked pretty and sometimes I’d just put in ticket stubs or flyers to an event I’d been too. It may have just beern a few words someone said to me or something silly that happened at work. When you start thinking about it, there’s always something.

    I’ve also done the #100happydays on Facebook. You post something that made you happy that day, everyday for 100 days along with a photo and it becomes very addictive. A group of us did it and at the end we were all a bit lost!

    • Kerstin
      Kerstin says:

      Wonderful to read all of this Jacki! Blogging is a great way to get your voice out there and connect with others. It’s not hard to set up a simple blog. I’ve created this website on my own, but it took a lot of trial and error and some research. I love how you’ve had a ‘happiness jar’ for years and I’ll start using some of your suggestions (ie. collect event flyers or record comments people made). I am intrigued to know why the group that did the #100happydays on FB would have felt lost by the end of it?


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