In advance, gather all of the resources you will need for this activity.
Distribute one jar and a bunch of short strips of paper to each person.
Announce that you will soon lead your group through a fun activity to reflect on their achievements and express gratitude.
Instruct each person to write as many things that they have achieved or are grateful for, one per single strip of paper.
Frame your group’s reflection as appropriate, eg the most recent group experience.
Encourage your group to identify those things that they have control over, eg not the weather.
When ready, invite everyone to place these strips of paper into their jar.
If desired, invite one or more volunteers to share some of what they contributed to their jar.
To conclude, invite your group to reflect on their experience of being grateful.
How To Play Narrative
As David Steindl-Rast says “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
This exercise is all about practising gratitude in a fun and creative way as much as inviting reflection.
Your biggest task is to collect a bunch of jars plus the other materials listed in the Resources tab.
Distribute one jar to each person and a bunch of short strips of paper. If you want to ramp up the fun and creativity, find the time to decorate the jars before you dive into the substance of the activity (see Variations tab.)
When ready, tell your group that you are going to lead them through a fun exercise to focus on those things in their life that they have achieved and/or can be grateful for.
Their first step is to think of as many ideas as they can, and then write each of these things that they are grateful for or have achieved onto a single strip of paper.
It can be one word or a sentence, whatever comes to mind. They don’t need to write much, but you may find that some people in your group need some prompts to get them thinking.
For example, offer a few suggestions such as:
Did you have coffee with a friend?
Did you have a few extra moments to yourself this morning?
Who or what is something that makes you happy?
Can you think of a recent win?
Maybe you ate a delicious meal or watched your favourite TV show?
Importantly, guide your group to identify things that they have control over rather than things that are out of their control like the weather. Yes, we can all be grateful for a sunny day, but there’s more power in focusing on those things a person can influence.
Allow a few minutes, and when most people look ready, ask them to pop each of their strips of paper with writing into their jar.
Now, this could be a daily or weekly or periodic experience, so that over time the jar continues to fill with wonderful grateful thoughts.
Once off or otherwise, you may find it valuable after everyone has filled their jars to invite one or more volunteers to share what they wrote with the rest of the group.
If possible, find the time to allow your group to reflect on their experience. Check out some conversation starters in the Reflection Tips tab for ideas.
Practical Leadership Tips
Remind your group that gratitude is something that requires practice. It might feel strange or difficult to think of something the first few times, but it gets easier. There are always things to be grateful for, but learning to notice these things takes practice.
If you choose the decorative route, allow your group to get creative with their jars. Provide some glue, glitter, paint, or stickers so they can decorate the jars and have fun. Can you think of any other ideas?
Use encouraging and affirming words when your group members share their accomplishments or wins.
You may note that some people have a lot fewer items in their jar than others. That’s okay, there can be lots of reasons for this so don’t make this mean anything in particular. If you choose to engage with this exercise frequently, you may discover that these folks become more familiar with gratitude in their lives and add more and more ideas to their jar.
Much like Journalling, the simple act of writing ideas down can be a powerful tool to reflect on a long time afterwards. We all forget stuff, so when we dip into our Gratitude Jar at a later date, it can be affirming to be reminded of what we were grateful for. Indeed I am certain that if we just relied on our memories, a lot of these inspirations would be lost.
You could integrate Gratitude Jar as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviours.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The practice of stopping, reflecting and considering what one is grateful for is very clearly a mindful activity. To this end, it is ideally suited to nourish the health and wellbeing of your group. Conducted regularly, you can expect to build the mindfulness muscles of your group, not to mention, their emotional intelligence, too.
You may consider asking your group to place their gratitude jars in front of themselves as you lead them through a mindful activity to keep the things they wrote front of mind.
Expressive Gratitude: Supply a bunch of art & craft materials and invite your group to decorate their jars in advance of the task. Encourage your group to get creative and express themselves.
Gratitude Reflection: Instruct your group to read through their gratitude jar at the beginning and end of the week. Pausing in the middle of a bad day to reflect on the content of their jar could be just the tonic someone needs to lift their mood.
Cooperative Jar 1: Invite all members of your group to write kind words, memories, and words of encouragement in other people’s jars. Invite folks to periodically read these contributions from time to time.
Cooperative Jar 2: You can use one big gratitude jar for the whole group to aggregate a variety of small and big wins and things to be proud of throughout the week, month, and year. Regularly invite your group to contribute ideas into the jar, and then pull a bunch of these out from time to time to read out loud.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
This activity can be done virtually but you’ll need to instruct your group to collect all of the stated resources (a jar, at a minimum) in advance. When it comes to sharing, you may choose to allocate your group to a series of smaller breakout rooms.
Allow your group to switch off their webcams if they feel more comfortable sharing. Group members may also wish to use the chatroom to share if they prefer not to speak or don’t have a microphone.
Use a virtual whiteboard or padlet to allow your group to create virtual gratitude jars.
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Useful Framing Ideas
When we focus on gratitude and shift our mindset to a more positive outlook, it is possible to see an improvement in our self-esteem and overall quality of life. And practising gratitude can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and can even improve your wellbeing. Our next activity will present you with an opportunity to build this practice…
Too often, we get caught up in all the stress and anxieties of daily life. Practising gratitude can remind us to be more present and appreciate the now. Whenever we have bad days or feel down, we can read through our gratitude jars to remind ourselves of all the things we have to be grateful for and proud of…
If you like being creative and expressive, you’re going to love this next exercise…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this creative reflection exercise:
How do you feel after reflecting on these things you’re grateful for?
What did you find most challenging about this exercise?
What did you like the best about this exercise?
Have you ever stopped to appreciate these things that you’re grateful for before?
How did you feel offering words of encouragement to others? How did it make you feel when others shared their
encouragement with you?
In what ways can you see yourself using your gratitude jar regularly?
The inspiration for Mindfulness Jar was sourced from Lisa Hughes and the Gratitude Jar activity on Positive Psychology.