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Get Yourself a ‘Holy Shit’ Jar


Gratitude. I know we need it in our lives, but I’ve struggled to make it a regular part of mine. And just like most ungrateful people who wish to be more grateful, I would often get frustrated for not being the type of person who remembers to appreciate all the good things.

But then a little over a year ago, I came across a fix: I was listening to a podcast interview with Noah Kagan, the founder of AppSumo, when he began raving about something he called a “Holy Shit Jar.”

What is a Holy Shit Jar? It is a literal jar. But it’s not just any jar. It’s a jar where you put all the things that make you say “holy shit” — in a good way — throughout your day. Your kid says his first word? Write it down on a scrap of paper and put it in the jar. Your partner made a whopper of a burger last night that you’re still thinking about today? Drop it in. You woke up and went running instead of hitting snooze? Add it to the jar. You get the idea. (Note: If you don’t want your kids chanting “holy shit” at playgroup, you can call the jar Good Things or The Smile Jar or whatever sounds right to you.)

Even my wife, who tends to walk the other way whenever she hears the phrase “gratitude practice,” liked the idea of the jar. So we washed out a soup container and got started.

To make the habit stick, we follow the advice of my friend, the psychologist Nick Wignall, and pair the activity with our dinner. Every evening, after we finish eating, we sit around the table with our two kids and talk about all the happy, funny, and exciting things that happened throughout the day, and write them down and put them in the jar. It’s fun. We laugh. I forget about all the stress in my life. And whenever we can use an extra boost, we dump out the older entries and read through them.

Research consistently demonstrates that gratitude is associated with greater happiness. But what surprised me was its impact on relationships. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill social psychology professor Sara Algoe describes what she calls a “witnessing affect” when group members see or hear others express thanks. “Just hearing an expression of gratitude makes us feel good about the grateful person and benefactor, and has the chance to link us all more closely together,” Algoe writes. I want our kids to hear us talking about all of our “holy shit” moments, whether they’re big or small — perhaps it will encourage them to look for their own.

We have a lot of good memories stuffed inside that jar. There are even some reminders from my wife that I’m not as awful as I sometimes think I am. But to date, my favorite entry comes courtesy of our five-year-old: “Today I imagined what a giraffe would look like without a long neck. Then I smiled.”