The Activity Your Family Needs to Start This Year: The Jar of Awesome
Teach your children to find the positive in life with this simple, heartwarming activity
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve
You can also listen to this article as a podcast on your favorite podcast app or click on the player below:
I’m about to do something you would never expect a pediatrician to do:
I’m going to sing the praises of a fast food commercial…
Sometime in the late 1980s or early ‘90s, the fast food chain Roy Rogers had a commercial that was one of my all-time favorites as a kid.
If I remember correctly, it went something like this:
The camera opens on a group of teenagers talking together in a restaurant booth. In the booth next to them sit three elderly gentlemen.
As the teens laugh and talk, one of the elderly gents pipes up:
“You kids don’t know how easy you have it now. When I was a kid, we had to walk to school uphill—both ways!”
Elderly Gent #2 then chimes in: “When I was growing up, we were so poor the whole neighborhood had to share one pair of shoes.”
“Shoes?” says Gent #1. “We didn’t even have shoes. We had to wrap newspapers around our feet.”
To which Elderly Gent #3 replies: “Feet? You had feet?”
As a kid, the part I found funniest was, obviously, the punchline—“You had feet??”
As an adult, however, I can also chuckle at the reality of how every generation at some point complains about how much easier a younger generation’s experience is, and how that younger generation just doesn’t appreciate what they’ve got.
My wife and I are a teacher and a pediatrician, respectively. So we’re built to try our best to have productive, healthy conversations with our kids. And yet, every now and then it’s hard not to slip into the role of indignant curmudgeon:
“Come on, guys—when we were kids we had commercialsduring TV shows and had to watch whatever was on, we couldn’t pick things on Netflix.” Or: “Laura Ingalls Wilder was happy to get an orange for Christmas—an orange! Quit complaining!”
MORE THAN A BUZZWORD
The fact is that we’d all like to help our kids learn to appreciate the good in their lives—not because of some wish that they’d somehow see that previous generations had things so much harder, but instead because that appreciation can have a positive impact on their lives and your family as a whole.
“Gratitude” has become a buzzword in recent years. Research has shown that practicing gratitude in various ways can be beneficial for everything from happiness and relationships, to sleep, behavior, and confidence. As a result, everybody and anybody who has a platform of some sort is singing gratitude’s praises.
And while activities like gratitude journals and family bonding dinner questionscan help increase your kids’ appreciation for the good in their lives, I want to talk about an activity that can do that and more—helping both parents and kids practice gratitude throughout the year while also creating special moments for families, helping you hang onto great memories, and providing a wonderful year-end tradition for you and your kids.
This amazing activity is The Jar of Awesome.
THE JAR OF AWESOME
My family started our Jar of Awesome in January of 2018. Not only did it help us ‘focus on the positive’ throughout the year, it also helped us start 2019 off with warmth, laughter, and love. More on that soon…
I first heard about The Jar of Awesome from author and podcaster Tim Ferriss. The idea is simple:
Keep a large mason jar in a place that’s easily accessible in a room where your family often hangs out. We keep ours in the dining room. Place a small pad of paper and a pencil or pen next to the jar. Throughout the year, whenever something fun or positive happens—whether at home or outside in someone’s day—whoever recognizes the event’s awesomeness writes it down on a piece of paper and places it into the jar.
Things you write don’t need to be the most amazing events or memories you’ve ever had. For example, events in our Jar of Awesome from last year included moments that ranged from large to small:
Summer vacation at the beach.
I had a really great day at school.
The kids sat under a blanket on the couch and read next to each other.
Christmas Eve with friends.
Some moments—like a week at the beach—are clearly big memories. Others, like the kids peacefully reading on the couch, are small moments that might otherwise be forgotten. And some—like stroopwafels—are just plain amazing (if you don’t know what they are, you need to get them here!).
At the end of the year, sit down as a family and take turns reading through your Jar of Awesome. Relive the memories and remember how great your year really was!
WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A JAR OF AWESOME
When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me not to make funny faces or else my face would stick that way.
Of course, there isn’t really any science behind that (I hope!). However, science does show that the more we do something, the more likely we are to do it in the future.
In researching the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, Harvard researcher Sara Lazar found out why this is the case. She looked at three groups of people with different levels of experience with mindfulness—people who had never meditated before, people who took an eight week mindfulness-based course with exercises focusing on self-awareness, compassion, and attention; and Buddhist monks who had practiced similar exercises for decades.
When Lazar used fMRI to look at the brain structure of people in each of the groups, she found that the more practice someone had with these mindfulness exercises, the thicker the areas of the brain in charge of focus, self-awareness, and emotional regulation had grown. The conclusion is that by practicing activities that focus on attention, introspection, and compassion, someone could strengthen their brain’s potential for performance in those areas—essentially, practicing focus, compassion, and introspection makes it easier for you to then practice them more in the future.
With the Jar of Awesome, you are encouraging your child to pay attention to what’s good in her life throughout the year. The more she tries to look for “the awesome” each day, the easier it becomes for her to find it.
The Jar of Awesome is a fun, simple tool you can use to help each person in your family become someone who can naturally find the good in life.
A WARM, FUN-FILLED START
On New Year’s Day 2019, my family and I sat on the floor at the top of the stairs and took turns reading entries from our 2018 Jar of Awesome. It took a good half hour or so, and it was the most amazing way to start off our new year.
Reading through the entries brought back so many wonderful memories—some of which we had forgotten—from the year before. We cracked up so many times, funny moments remembered in fits of laughter.
Reliving the best moments of the previous year together reminded us how amazing a year it really was, and inspired each of us to look out for the wonderful in the year ahead.
We’ve already started our Jar of Awesome for 2019 (first entry? “reading last year’s Jar of Awesome”), and plan to make it a family tradition. My hope is that when my kids are old and grey, they can look at a gaggle of youngsters and say: “When we were kids, we knew how to appreciate the good in life.”