How a simple jar and paper can change your life

On the last day of 2015, I attended a casual New Year’s Eve party with a small group of friends. We sat about chatting and the conversation shifted to our highlights of the past year.  The first things that sprang to mind were those that had monetary value, holidays, new cars, pay rises and a new house. Happy times indeed, but were they the best moments of our year? Were we so conditioned by society and its consumerism that we no longer valued authentic connection? 

And so I announced I was going to write down the highlight of my day, every day, for a whole year. Who knew, such a simple practice would have such a profound impact on my life.

Just before bed on New Year’s Day, I found a nearly empty jar of pickled onions at the back of fridge. I placed my pickled-onion-jar-come-highlight-receptacle on my dresser. It looked a little understated for such a grand purpose, so I tied a brown shoelace around it in a bow. 

Then armed with post-it note and pen I set about writing the highlight of my day. The pen quivered with anticipation above the paper, yet no words formed. My day had been fine, a little seedy and somewhat headachy perhaps, but certainly it hadn’t been a toddler induced post-apocalyptic war zone. 

Yet no moment sprang out with neon flashing lights screaming, ‘I am your highlight’. I certainly felt like I had achieved that day. But hanging out the washing by 9am could hardly be the highlight.  Could it? All the beautiful tender moments spent with my family and friends had passed by while I was busy being ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’ and ‘achieving’. It took about 20 minutes before I dredged up something that made me smile. Was it the best part of my day? Maybe, maybe not. Apparently I’d been too busy to notice.

The following evening the pen quivered and again I had to really search for the highlight of my day. Who knew, I was the least mindful person on the planet. 

The third evening, my partner and I giggled at my highlight.  Our newly toilet trained daughter announcing she needed fresh knickers; her current ones were full of farts… He shared his and we enjoyed a moment of candid closeness. It felt good to connect over something positive, rather than just a common adversity, like it is so easy to do when parenting a young family.

Over the following days and weeks a pile of pickled oniony post-it notes grew. So did my mindfulness. Throughout the day I’d catch myself wondering if this moment was my highlight. And so I began to seek out the good in each day. The more I searched the more I discovered that my days were riddled with bite sized morsels of happiness. A moment of sweet innocence from my daughter, a compliment from my partner, a conversation with a friend where I felt truly heard.

Even on the darkest days of rampant toddler warfare there were still moments glittering amongst the rubble. Their light helped ease the darkness of such days. 

My connection with my partner grew too. Anything that was funny or ironic or just plain awesome would be heralded by a hearty cry of “Highlight!” We were learning to be more mindful, to live in the moment and notice when we were happy. We shared a moment of authentic connection, focused on positivity at the end of every day.  And it was beautiful. It was healing. We became happier, more content and more present in our lives.

At the start of 2016 I expected any brief moment I got to myself to be the highlight of my day. To sit and have a whole cup of tea uninterrupted. To go to the bathroom unaccompanied. To read a whole chapter in my book. I guarded such moments fiercely, I was resentful they weren’t more plentiful.

Yet I was surprised to discover that day after day my highlight was never being alone. It was always about connecting with someone in some way, more often than not my daughter, the pressure from which I was so desperately seeking escape. And so my feelings of missing out slowly abated. I felt less resentful, I learned to cherish the moment I had, instead of longing for one I didn’t. In a way, I even learned to enjoy the enthusiastic cries of ‘well done mummy’ in the bathroom; at least she was on my team. 

And then there were 365 highlights in the jar. A whole year spent looking for the very best part of every day. A whole year of sharing with my partner and learning what brings him joy. A whole year learning what brings me joy. And this process of learning and becoming more mindful, of choosing joy has in itself been a highlight and brought me so much pleasure and peace.

And so, when people ask, what does it take to be more positive, to be more present, to foster genuine connection with those we love, to feel like more of a mother, to enjoy life more fully, I can answer with confidence. For me, all it took was an old pickled onion jar, a brown shoelace and several hundred post-it notes.