Make a Magic Jar for 2023
Updated: Feb 3
Boost your sense of joy and connectedness and savor those small-but-important memories with this fun activity for 2023!
For the past decade, I have had a practice of keeping a “Magic Jar” throughout the year, starting in January, and sustaining it through December.
To me, a “magic jar” is a place to collect meaningful, poignant or joy-filled moments that happen in my day-to-day life. These moments can be large – completing a major project, a birthday celebration with friends, hearing back positive results from a medical test, etc. However, most are those small moments of significance that can be so easy to gloss over. For example, uncontrollable laughter with a dear friend, a meaningful interaction with a stranger at a cafe, noticing a beautiful sunset, open-hearted gratitude for a kindness, or a cozy, contentment-filled moment on the couch with 2 pugs in my lap.
Make Your Own Magic Jar
My Magic Jar is a simple Mason jar that I have decorated with quirky and positive stickers (see above). Each time a small moment of magic happens, I spend a minute or two writing down details on a small slip of paper, write the date at the top, fold up that paper and put it in the jar. I do not necessarily do this every day, but whenever something strikes me as significant that I want to capture.
Tapping into the Magic
At the end of the year, on December 31st, I empty out the jar, and read through all of these memories, large and small, throughout the past year. It is an incredible way to reminisce and take stock of the year. Because many of my moments of magic often involve another person or a group, I take a picture of the memories, and text them to the people who were involved with a Happy New Year message.
(Real example of one memory)
The Surprising Benefits
This practice, though it takes minimal time and effort, has had a significant impact in my life. Since creating my magic jar, I have learned more about the neuroscience behind why it is so valuable. Here are three reasons (other than the qualitative feelings of it being fun and feeling good) why creating a magic jar practice is good for the brain.
#1 - It offsets the negativity bias
Due to our human evolution we are conditioned to pay five times more attention to the negative, than the positive. Furthermore, it takes only an average of 2 seconds for negative experiences to be stored in long-term memory, but 12- 20 seconds for positive experiences to be stored. The act of noticing and writing down positive memories, allows them to sink it (an act called “savoring”) and can help these positive moments be stored in our memory and be easier to recall. Practicing this continuously can actually change the structure of our brain (a phenomenon called neuroplasticity) and offset our biological tendency to focus on the negative
#2 - Increases our attention on the positive
Getting into the practice of writing down “magic” moments increases our ability to recognize these ordinary moments of wonder. It trains our brain to scan the environment for the good, not only for threats and dangers. What is key is continuous attention. The poet, Ross Gay, beautifully expresses this in the introduction to “The Book of Delights” a collection of essays in which he writes about a different delight he notices daily (similar to a magic jar!) He says, “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study…. Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows – much like love and joy –when I share it.” (p. Xiii)
#3 - Creates an opportunity for connection
Building and sustaining social connections is the most important thing we can do for our health and wellbeing. On New Year's Eve, when I take a picture and share “magic jar” moments with others who were present, it is always a sweet moment of connection. It also offers me a way to let people know how significant they are to me. Together, we get a chance to reminisce about a positive moment. This type of positive nostalgia benefits all of us.