Making a Memory Jar

A few years ago I came across a blog post about making a “memory jar” or a “happiness jar.” I don’t remember where I came across the original post, but the idea stuck with me. I’ve been doing it for the last few years, and it’s brought me a lot of joy. So in the spirit of the season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, allow me to share it with you.

I wanted to pass on an idea that’s helped me find gratitude and perspective amidst the chaos and difficulties of everyday life.


Essentially, to make a memory jar, you just write things down on scraps of paper throughout the year and put them in a jar. It’s nothing fancy–currently my jar is a plastic Frozen cup my daughter got in a goodie bag from a birthday party. In it I keep cut-up index cards and a pen. You remember to write happy memories down as you go throughout the year, and then you don’t open the jar until New Year’s Eve.

On December 31, I dump the contents of the jar on the bed and read the scraps of paper. I look forward to this reflective hour or so before I head out to celebrate. By the end of the year, there’s so much I’ve already forgotten, and I sit there and smile while I remember how great my year was.

Even though every moment wasn’t great, and maybe some big things went wrong, there were still so many fun and special little moments.

What I try to do when writing out the memories is remember the little things, the small moments of joy throughout my year. I focus on the things I wouldn’t remember unless I made an intention to.

A walk to the park with my family on the unseasonably warm March day

Catching up with a friend over a workday lunch 

Spontaneously grabbing a happy hour drink with my husband

When we’re told to “think of the positive memories,” we tend to only remember the “big” things, like birthdays, vacations, and holidays. Of course I probably had fun on my birthday and had a good Thanksgiving with my family. I don’t need to write that down to remember that. But unless I write down the memory of catching up on my book while sitting on my deck in a rare moment of alone time, I probably wouldn’t remember and couldn’t reflect back on that nice memory.

Those small moments are the memories I try to capture.

2016 has been an interesting year to say the least. We’ve all experienced a lot of ups (Chicago Cubs win the World Series! Leo finally wins an Oscar!) but a lot of downs, too, both individually and on a larger level. I’m looking forward to reading my memories in a few short weeks and remembering that I actually did have a great year. It’s so easy to remember the things that went wrong, like when I got a long string of persistent colds for months, when I got stranded from accidentally letting my car battery die, and all the days I just couldn’t get out the door on time in the mornings. 

For next year, I want to incorporate some new ideas into this tradition. This list and this list provide great prompts for reflecting on your past year and gearing up for the new year. In addition to making my memory jar, I want to spend more time on open-ended reflection.

This post provides a free printable for making a memory jar and also offers ideas for what to focus on when writing down your memories, like an especially great meal, an enjoyable TV show, and compliments you’ve received. I haven’t incorporated these ideas yet, but I love them because they are even more small and basic than the little moments of fun I’ve been focusing on. Without a prompt, I probably would never think to write down a compliment I received, but that would be a great thing to reflect on at the end of the year. This post also provides a list of ideas for how to get you started.

I’m excited to wrap up the year and see what 2017 has to bring to me and my family. How do you spend time reflecting on your year?


Brigette lives in North Liberty with her husband Brian, energetic daughter Kate (October 2014) and their two cats, Penny and Olive. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Brigette came to Iowa City to attend the journalism school at the University of Iowa, fell in love with the area, and decided she couldn’t leave. After meeting Brian while working at the same Iowa City restaurant in college, they got married in August 2015 in the heart of downtown. She works full time in project management and as an employee of the Core Fitness Kids Club while finishing her MBA at Upper Iowa University. In her free time, she drags Kate out garage sale-ing, tries to keep up with her reading list and runs, lives for Hawkeye football season, enjoys a good meal on a patio, runs her Bachelor/Bachelorette bracket with her family and friends, and of course, chases her daughter around the pool and the park.


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