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Beyond the Gratitude List

Write down 10 things I’m grateful for? No, thanks. Here are three other rituals that raise my vibe. 

Confession time: Gratitude lists just don’t do it for me.

I have tried time and again to incorporate them into my daily rituals, but for some reason, the act of sitting down, searching for the things that I am to be grateful for and listing them out on paper feels like some sort of show. A forced evidence of why I should be happier.

Naturally, this has always made me feel somewhat inadequate. I’ve imagined that everyone else gets something I do not and that people all over the world each and every day sit down with pen and paper, able to cultivate a profound sense of gratitude and well-being through the act of list making, while I eek out things like “my mom” and “lavender soap” with a half-smile.

It is not to say that I am not grateful for things or that I do not get a lift from focusing on what I have over what I do not. My life is lived from a place of gratitude, and the concept of counting blessings over enumerating the things I lack is a cornerstone to how I operate. But it is to say that something about the ritual of listing things to be grateful for as a means to contentment falls flat in my world.

To compensate, I’ve searched for other rituals that bring me a profound sense of joy and expansion — things that make sense to me and deliver the punch gratitude lists promised. Here are three of my favorites.

The God Box

Last winter, I found myself smack in the middle of a five-alarm freak-out. I was giving my first speaking engagement, back in the vice grips of loving and hating this guy, desperate to abandon Hip Sobriety, certain I was headed for bankruptcy, and I couldn’t write a blog to save my life. I was explaining all of this on an online forum, looking for suggestions, when one of the members told me about The God Box (credit: Anne Lamott).

The idea was simple: I was to get a box; take every scary, overwhelming thought that I had; write it down on a piece of paper; and put the piece of paper in the box. As in, physically surrender it over to the order of the universe. Willing to try anything, I immediately got up from my computer, emptied out my jewelry box, tore up scraps of paper, wrote out every last little freaky thought I had and dumped them in the box. By the end of the night, there were 20 scraps of paper. The next night, I added 10. By the end of the week, there were 50. Some months later, the box wouldn’t close.

I can’t even begin to explain the extent of the shift this created in me and the shift it has created in my life.

Something about the physical act of writing down what it is that is consuming me, putting it in a box and walking away is freeing beyond words. It’s literally the act of giving someone else your shit and saying, “You take this because I just cannot even.” It allows me to get out of my own way, let the universe do its thing and get back to the things I can actually control.

Bonus? It actually works. Everything I have ever given to the box has miraculously worked itself out. Imagine.

Action item: Find a box and some scraps of paper. Each time some terrifying thought occupies your mind or you are consumed with an outcome, write it on the scrap of paper, and stick it in the box. You can do this throughout the day or at a set time in the evening.

The Happiness Jar

This one not only proves I’m not inept at gratitude but also that Elizabeth Gilbert is a genius (as it comes from her). The Happiness Jar is similar to the God Box in that there is a receptacle (in this case a jar) and slips of paper, but it works quite differently.

At the end of each day, you are to take a slip of paper and write down at least one thing that happened that day for which you are grateful for and drop it in the jar. The idea is that no matter how messed up our day is, if we search for it, we can find at least one thing to be happy over. One simple moment, one beautiful break, one diamond in the rough, one small accomplishment, one fabulous surprise. Time and again, regardless of how awful my day has been, I have unfailingly been able to pull out at least one fine thread of good.

Even better? Over time, the jar fills up, and we accumulate moments. So on those really, really, really bad days, we can stick our hands in the jar, pull out the scraps of good in our lives, and line it up as evidence that we are infinitely blessed and everything is going to be OK.

Note: This one takes a lot more discipline, so I tend to drop one in each time I am hitting up the God Box. I also like to date my slips of paper because I’m sentimental.

Action item: Grab a jar (I prefer big mason jars with lids), and find some scraps of paper. At a set time at the end of each day, write out the best thing that happened that day. It can be something as simple as a laugh you shared or a conversation you had or someone holding the door open for you. Date the scrap of paper, and put it in the jar. Go back through the jar from time to time when you need a boost.

The Powerful Question

This ritual comes from my coach Zoe Wild and is brilliant. The premise is simple: Each day at the beginning of the day, you ask yourself a few questions that inspire a sense of wonder and sit back and muse the answer out for a minute or so. Here is a list of sample questions from Zoe, but I’ve found a few key ones that really work for me that I stick to. I write mine out each morning in my journal as I do my morning ritual (which is spiritual reading, journaling, and yoga and meditation), and spend no more than about 30 seconds on each.

The three questions I write each day are:

  1. What if today were the best day of my life?
  2. What would it feel like to be completely and totally in love with myself?
  3. What would it feel like to own an apartment in Trastevere?

These questions inevitably lead to me feeling, seeing and tasting the outcome and easily raise my vibration. I walk out into the world each day thinking that anything can happen, a little more in love with myself, with an image of my future Italian apartment seared into mind as if it has already happened.

Action item: This ritual comes from my coach Zoe Wild and is brilliant. The premise is simple: Each day at the beginning of the day, you ask yourself a few questions that inspire a sense of wonder and sit back and muse the answer out for a minute or so. I’ve found a few key ones that really work for me that I stick to. I write mine out each morning in my journal as I do my morning ritual (which is spiritual reading, journaling, and yoga and meditation), and spend no more than about 30 seconds on each.


Holly Whitaker is a sobriety coach, teacher, speaker, co-host and co-producer of the Home podcast, and Kundalini yoga and meditation instructor. She writes about addiction and addiction recovery on her website, Hip Sobriety.

Written by Holly Whitaker

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