Finding Happy in the New Year

“Our inner artist responds to small acts of luxury.”  — Julia Cameron

We are well into the new year of 2015, and many of us are still processing 2014. How is your year going so far? Are you off to a running start, or feeling like you’ve already fallen behind? Have you already had your share of life’s surprises, and/or do you feel confident that you are braced for whatever comes your way? What changes have you made this year, or what changes are you hoping for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section that follows this piece.

I am a happy planner, but 2013, my first full year of retirement from teaching, didn’t turn out any way that I planned or expected–and 2014 was every bit as shocking and exhausting. Just to give you an idea, 2014 began with a hard fall on the ice, and ended with a broken toe that is still healing. Much of my year was spent in physical pain and debilitating fatigue. And there were other nightmares I’ve yet to write about. Perhaps by writing about them I’m afraid I might jinx myself further?

This bad fortune clearly has to change. But this is not the first time I’ve felt this way. How about you? What do you do to rid the negative energy from your life? …Please tell me I am not the only one who has bad things happen to her. Often.  It’s a good thing we are high-spirited people, right?!

Feeling wiped out by the trials of 2013, and before the year even ended, I decided that it was time to force a positive focus for the upcoming New Year. Desperate to shift the winds of fortune last year, at the beginning of 2014, I resorted to a sort of pagan ritual–creating one of those “Happiness Jars,” where each day you record the best thing that happened to you–something that made you feel happy–and place it in a jar. What could it hurt, right? After all, at the time they were all the rage. I’m not exactly sure where happiness jars originated, but Elizabeth Gilbert takes credit for them here, and you can find them growing like a social movement here.

Anyway, the immediate shift in energy amazed me so much that I started making Happiness Jars for friends and family, even the receptionist at the doctor’s office who was having a hard year herself. And of course, my generally exuberant daughter, who maybe still has it displayed on some shelf somewhere.

What can I say; happiness is contagious, right?

I am certainly okay with anyone who has an abundance of positivity going on, and therefore no immediate need for such measures. That’s just not me, or wasn’t me the past two (to eight) years (ha!). Based on their reactions, my recipients clearly did not infuse as much hope or honor into their Happiness Jar as I did into my own–and that, too, is okay by me.  After all, such an abundance of positivity is the aim of all Happiness Jars, Gratitude JournalsBucket Lists, you name it. I realize that some people have better luck and less time for such frivolity. I once had less time and better luck, too. These tools are meant as guides and game changers for those of us who find ourselves somehow stuck, mired, or otherwise buried—all in the metaphorical sense, of course.


Fortunately, however, I was able to see this reticence toward the promise of joy as delivered through my self-crafted mason and pickle jars eclipsed by one notable exception.

I made a jar and gave it to a favorite physical therapist, who was having some trouble that winter with her young daughter. And yes, since 2013 and 2014 seemed to be the years of physical therapy for me, all of this is somehow circular, if not labyrinthine, right?

Well, to my *surprise* (the good mojo was obviously already appearing), my physical therapist told me that her daughter was so delighted to discover this Happiness Jar that she immediately took ownership, locating then placing it in her own special spot, and that the minute she arrived home from school the daughter would not only look forward to recording her own daily joys on the included pre-cut papers, but also encouraged her mother to do the same right along with her.

The mother said her daughter’s enthusiasm led to increased communication and a magical connection between herself and the daughter, who notably brightened by the practice. It seems the Happiness Jar gave this child some hope, too, and these success stories generously shared by the mother in several physical therapy sessions also doubled both her joy and my own.  One time the daughter even reportedly took the mother, who was herself out of sorts from a bad day, to the jar to select one of the recorded papers, instantly brightening her day.  And when the mother generously prepared the daughter’s favorite entree, the daughter declared it was the Happiness Jar that brought her such fortune.  Happy anecdotes like these warmed my heart, and set the tone for many a cheerful afternoon.

You know how it is, though; things come up; we get distracted; the idea gets set. Eventually I myself abandoned the practice and simply allowed this newfound energy to lead me. Perhaps that is the point of the Happiness Jar—although it is said that the point is to read the slips at the end of the year to reflect on all the awesome that has accumulated. A crucial step, I suppose, that I have yet to get around to doing. Something to look forward to!

So now it is 2015—the year preceded by the popular Happiness Jar technique.

Starting the year off with a forced shift appears to have been successful overall.

After all, I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean all on my own to attend a retreat for creative types like myself. Though I have attended retreats in the past, and even added the activity to my lists of things to do in upcoming years, this retreat was an unanticipated excursion. What made this a landmark experience was that it was the first retreat I traveled to alone since my head injury–something that had become dangerous and ill-advised. And yet this year, albeit after many years of recovery, I was not only willing, but apparently ready. It wasn’t easy because I was rather anxious about it, as I still have some residual deficits that I knew would throw some curve balls, and did. But I survived and that makes it a victory in my book, despite and maybe in spite of the debilitating fatigue that plagued the trip, both leading up to and following it.

Above all, the accomplishment left me desiring further internal shifts into 2015.  So far—perhaps magically and in part thanks to the initial practice of the Happiness Jar–these have been delivered.

In my next posts, I’d like to reflect on the best thing that happened to me in 2014, and reveal to you my “Word of the Year” for 2015.

Happy New Year, and I hope you are off to an exhilarating start!

If not, send me an email or tell me in a message, and I will send you two modifications I wrote that you can use to create your own Happiness Jars.




© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved

4 thoughts on “Finding Happy in the New Year

  1. I’m trying to keep my spirits up even though I have gotten behind from fatigue caused by a migraine attack. After 40 years of migraines and the most professional help I have learned what triggers them and no longer have as many. However, fatigue does it no matter how much self care I give myself. So I accept this and continue to work on self care. A couple things I do when fatigue or negativity creeps in I take a few days off the computer, phone, work, to just sleep, eat what I love and read a stack of magazines from the library. Usually, I’m back on my feet in a few days. Some of my fatigue is grief missing my Daughter and Mother so much. When I take my naps I can think of them with joy, knowing they are no longer suffering.
    I use my gratitude journal and write each evening the best part of my day and decide what joyful thing I can do the next day for myself and others. Six years ago, both my daughters, Mother and husband had cancer and were in different hospitals. My husband is cancer free, my surviving daughter is in remission and my Mother and Daughter passed within two months of each other in 2013. The loss is raw and deep. Two books during this time transformed my life and have brought me peace, joy and gratitude. My days of angst, depression and resentment are over. “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin and “May Cause Miracles” by Gabrielle Bernstein. I work those two books consistently and I continue to apply the lessons daily. I am signed up for their newsletters and their video’s are a big help too.
    Debra, I enjoy your Blog and your Happy Jars are delightful, such talent you have. I know doing for others is a wonderful coping skill. Your questions were so helpful just clarifying where I’m at and realizing how far I’ve come on my life work, thank you so much!

    • You clearly have a strong spirit, Judy. I’ve found that when we focus on staying resilient, we always find ways to meet life’s challenges. Fatigue itself is a profound challenge, which many people never experience and do not understand. I’m so glad you know how to take care of yourself and that you make it a priority. Believe it or not, many people do not know how to slow down and do this. I’ve been meaning to write about fatigue, and your remarks give me food for thought. I’m so glad your enjoying this blog. Many joys to you in the days ahead!

  2. As a woman who is not “gifted” in doing arts and crafts type of things and I feel frustrated doing them; creating a Happiness jar, I would not create for myself or anyone else. It all has to do with my previous attempts, with this type creative activity and my not being happy with the results! The original project in my mind is always much better; than the actual project when I view the flaws-as the finished item actually looks to me-when finished. Viewing your beautiful examples, seeing how feminine and creative they are, has me admiring your creations all the more! They look gorgeous to me!

    I am also happy for the results which were positive for you! It seems you were rewarded with the realization, of the happy times in your life, which was a great result! The story of the Physical Therapist mother and her daughter is precious! How wonderful for you to instigate, the contagious enthusiasm of the daughter; prompting lovely results for the mother and daughter, with more closeness between them in their relationship, as well as more realization of happiness!

    I had a similar thing happen to me, which I consider a “God thing!” Many years ago, I attended an all day women’s seminar. Many businesses were represented; with the possibility to purchase some of their items. After hearing the keynote speaker, there was a drawing for door prizes. My name was called! I was given a gift certificate, to a store having all kinds of things available, to decorate your home. I viewed the items. Clearly, there was 1 thing I adored! It was the exact value, of the gift certificate! It was a very decorative piece of tin, in a rectangle shape. It had been bent back and forth, to have a wavy look to it. The background is a warm beige and the fancy lettering on it, is a dark cranberry color saying: Count Your Blessings. It has a curled cranberry colored wire, which is used, to hang it on the wall. We have it hanging, right beside our full length mirror, and is just at our eye level. We have another decorative framed painting underneath it, to make this a hanging wall grouping. This “Count Your Blessings” reminder is located, where we see it several times everyday. This actually does the same thing for us, as does your Happiness Jar! Each time we view this wall handing reminder, we immediately think of a blessing, which we can easily relate to immediately! It is one of the most prized possessions, we have hanging on the walls of our home. This prompts many happy, thankful thoughts for us-being grateful to God-for every blessing in our lives!

    • What an interesting connection. It is good to place such reminders where we can see and enjoy them. I enjoyed reading your reflections on this post, and I appreciate your participation. Thanks for reading Stumbler.

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