1 Feb 2017
I’m so touched that Katherine would extend an invitation for me to share on Katszone again. She originally floated the idea by me at the end of 2016, after sharing a personal essay I’d written about the year on her Facebook. The piece was my most personal to date and the fact that someone would take the time to read it, let alone share it with their friends, astounded me. I quickly agreed to write something for her in 2017, ignoring the panic that arose in my chest reminding me that I didn’t have a single idea about what to write about.
That brings us to the topic at hand: gratitude. It was the feeling that first washed over me when I saw Katherine had shared my essay online. It was the driving force for my no-gift Christmas rule amongst friends this year. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I haven’t abandoned social media all together. But most importantly, being grateful is the number one action I can take on a day-to-day basis to lift me from a funk to a place of functioning contentedness.
I’ve been on the gratitude train for a few years now; it’s an unavoidable topic in the world of self-improvement and spirituality. But it wasn’t until early 2016 when I picked up Janice Kaplan’s book The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life that I started to really re-examine my relationship with thankfulness. The book details out Kaplan’s year-long journey of introducing gratitude into every part of her life including her marriage, family life, work, and health. While it’s clearly backed by research, the most endearing part of the read is Kaplan’s firsthand accounts of the steps she takes to make gratitude a daily practice. From daily journaling to having present conversations with family and friends, I was moved by the simplistic impact of it all.
One evening shortly after finishing the book, I found myself at home annoyed by social media, in particular the Snapchat app. Why do we need this? What purpose is this serving? I asked myself. Then it hit me – I could give Snapchat a purpose. Instead of leaning on social media to share the mundane, why not use it to promote good vibes instead? From that day on until the end of December I posted a single photo (nearly) every day with a caption starting with “Grateful for…” I’m not going to lie, some days were a challenge to not take another picture of my cat and call it a day. The act of appreciation doesn’t always come easy after long or bad days. But regardless, I continued to post. For those unfamiliar with Snapchat, users share photos and videos with their followers for a length of up to 10 seconds. The images and videos can be for viewed for only 24 hours and then they disappear into the oblivion of the Internet. My newfound gratitude project became a literal daily snapshot of one thing I was grateful for, and I started to feel the positive effects creep into my day-to-day life almost immediately.
Due to the nature of Snapchat, there’s not a lot of room for engagement between users in a meaningful way. There’s no comment section per say like with Facebook or the ability to view old photos and videos within a profile like on Instagram. Because of that, for much of my journey I was unsure of how my followers felt about my daily practice, but I persevered regardless. I had to remind myself on countless occasions that this journey was for my benefit firstly, and whether people realized it or not they were benefiting from my daily gratitude second hand.
As Christmas closed in I made a choice to reach out to my friends and suggest we implement a no-gift rule and instead just enjoy each other’s company over dinner. Many were quick to agree, which was lovely. But what happened next surprised me the most. In a spur-of-the-moment decision during the first holiday dinner, I opted to share a moment of gratitude for a special memory that happened between that friend and I earlier in the year. I shared it bluntly leading in with something like, “I’ve been thinking a lot about this year, and there’s one special memory I have of you and me that I want to thank you for.” While the response from my friend was cautious, she still accepted the thanks graciously. Oddly enough a bit later in the evening she began to open up and we connected in a deeper way than over other dinners we’ve had together. Coincidence? Well, I starting sharing other friend-specific special memories over the rest of my dinners and I can say with certainty that despite cautious acceptance of my thanks each time, each evening resulted in deep, meaningful conversations where the walls came down and beautiful truths came out. After nearly a year of consciously infusing gratitude into my life, I was giving gifts of gratitude for Christmas.
All of this is to say that gratitude is powerful. And our decision to choose gratitude is powerful. There’s no right way to do it, but I feel strongly that it’s a key to unlocking genuine happiness in all of our lives. So here’s my challenge to you in 2017 – Choose gratitude. Even when it’s hard. Even when it feels like you have nothing to be grateful for. Even when it seems pointless, or silly, or stupid. Choose it. Start a journal to list three things you’re grateful for each night. Thank your employees or coworkers for the work they do. Share a picture on social media every day. Thrust your thanks on friends and family over dinner. Whatever it takes for you to make the commitment. I’ll be walking right alongside you on this journey and I cannot wait to witness the magic.
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Jaimie Milburn is a lot of things, but mostly she’s a person afraid of titles. Currently living in Toronto with a chubby black cat named Prem, she works in the music industry by day and is brewing up exciting new opportunities at night. Jaimie is currently enrolled in the Life Skills Coaching program at George Brown where she’ll finalize her certification mid-2017. To read some of Jaimie’s other writing please visit medium.com/@jmilbz. You can also find her on Twitter, @jmilbz and @newheartadvntr
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