Happiness in a Jar

Shares the family ritual of using jars with notes as playful resources for activities and self nurturing.
Shares the family ritual of using jars with notes as playful resources for activities and self nurturing.
Happiness Jar

Once you have your own family, you create a small universe within which you will either thrive or suffer because your family members become your closest emotional support. How do we help each other grow into better people? There is a lot to learn from one another. Tolerance for example, where you don’t judge each other’s individuality. We can overlook the small stuff because, in the big picture, it just doesn’t matter—a little mess or different preferences are part of coexistence. How we resolve problems, how we adapt to each other’s personality, will show how functional the family will become. You learn patience and respect for each other, compromise, forgiveness, and many other important qualities that you can take out into the world.

I recently contributed a chapter to Tim Ferriss’s upcoming book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, where all of us “mentors” had to answer the same questions. There was one question, “What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?” that challenged me. Natalie ended up providing the answer, reminding me of a solution we use in the family for avoiding conflict.

Since we’re all strong-willed individuals, each time we would discuss going out to eat we would bicker about where to go. We started allowing each other to choose and rotated turns, but this ended up not working out. We would never remember whose turn it was, or someone would try to talk the other out of their decision. One day I’d had enough. I thought there must be a better solution, so I gave post-its to everyone in the family and told them to write down their favorite places to eat. After rolling up the pieces of paper so no one could read what was on them, I found a mason jar in the kitchen to hold them all. My daughter then suggested that instead of reaching in and picking one out, she would put a teacup on the floor and spill the slips of paper—whichever one landed inside the cup was the winner. We liked that Natalie contributed her idea to the process.

When the same arguments came up when we tried to choose an activity for the weekend, we applied the same solution and created another jar. Soon my husband and daughter realized that they both liked the same places and the same activities. Since I like trying new things, I found an opportunity to introduce new places to eat and activities to try. Creating jars eliminated the necessity of using force, manipulation or persuasion. Now we don’t waste time on simple decisions; we pull out the jar and we all love (or at least accept) the choice.

One day I got the idea for a third jar—the Happiness Jar—when I wanted my daughter to think about what made her happy without any influence from us. I also was aware of how as family members we might adapt and compromise over time, that we all might benefit from defining what really made us happy as individuals. Here are some things my daughter wrote: taking a bath, bathing the dog, baking, practicing a tricky gymnastics move, and even doing “nada”—otherwise known as nothing! I was surprised by her choices, especially the bath, which she doesn’t ask for very often.

Happiness Jar

We use this jar to maintain harmony when we can tell that one of us is out of sorts. Instead of poking and asking “What’s wrong?” or “Are you ok?” (we’re not always ready to talk about it) we tell each other to “Go to the Happiness Jar” as a way of being supportive. Once someone makes themselves feel better with something they love, the pendulum swings to a better mood. Often if we’re all in a bad mood we’ll gather together to watch the comedies we all love: “Groundhog Day,” “RV,” or any of National Lampoon’s Chevy Chase films. Doing this shifts the energy and we can become lighthearted and goofy again. I realize that we only have a limited number of years living together as a family. Soon our daughter will want to spend more time with her friends or be off on her own, so how we spend our time together matters: We can create pleasant traditions and memories that will last forever. Both Jerzy and I didn’t have good modeling in our families when we were young, so we want to create a “democratic republic” in our home. We keep trying to make it even better.


We created a new family tradition with the jars. Are there any traditions from your birth family that you’ve brought forward for yourself or your family today? We’d love to hear your stories.

Leave your response below in the comments.

Happiness Jar

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  • Ours is simple, but powerful. Each Thanksgiving, when we are together with our extended family, we go around the table and share 1 thing for which we are thankful this year. It’s a wonderful way for us to realize all the blessings we have! As I am writing this, I realize that this could be much more often than once a year!

    • Kristen, I’m glad you wrote about realization that we can practice appreciation more often than once a year. Why not every day to be mindful about our blessings in our life. Maybe all what’s distresses us might diminish, or at least will be overpowered by what’s positive in our life.

  • We have family dinner together every evening, and my wife started a tradition two years ago called Roses and Thorns. We go around the table and each member gets a few minutes to talk about one thing that went well in their day and one thing that didn’t (we make no suggestions on how to fix the Thorn, just an acknowledgment of something that maybe was a struggle that day in the other person’s life).

    This ritual is meaningful for me in two ways. One is the grounding effect at the end of each day – dinner, the view outside our window, the fireplace, listening to people I love. The second is the shift in perspective for a moment – what was the day like today for our nine-year-old at his playground, for our middle child at her new school, for our high school senior in the middle of college application season, for my wife at work at the university. The whole thing takes maybe ten minutes before our dinner each day but cumulatively over the months, it greatly centers us as a family.

    • Yes. I remember this. We used to practice that ritual when Natalie was smaller. Time before she made a big commitment to gymnastics which required spending most evenings in the gym. I loved it. It was a simple way to know how each of us feel or think without any pressure. Thank you Sukumar for reminding me of it, and sharing with others.

  • Beautiful! Thank You, Aniela. Very timely. Thanksgiving can be wonderful and it canntry one’s patience bringing together family and friends we don’t normally hang out with. I am more open out of reading this! More to be thankful for!
    Love, julia

  • I loved this, and can’t wait to share.
    And, so aptly timed for this thoughtful season of people coming together. Thank you Aniela!

  • When our children were younger and still living with us or nearby, we would sometimes use drums and rhythm instruments, sitting in a circle, and get into a beat together. We found that this simple activity required everyone to listen to each other (to stay on beat) and allowed self-expression of various feelings while feeling connected and welcomed as part of the family group.

    • Don, this is a wonderful way of leveling energy in between people. Great idea! I believe in power of music and rhythm. It allows us to tune in or out – tone down or raise up our energy. People’s energy works the same way, I have friends in whose presence I am more relaxed and mellow and others bring a ball of energy within myself.
      We have a friend who loves drums and his house is full of them, all sizes. Usually we end up drumming after the dinner that we cook together first. We have a lot of fun playing drums and dancing as a form of active relaxation and energy release. I really appreciate you sharing your solution and hope this will appeal to many of our practitioners.

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