Daylight Savings is never a popular time of year. Yet, somehow falling back this November didn’t bring with it my usual gripes. Perhaps it’s that my children are growing older and a bit more independent (meaning, they can each fill a bowl of Cheerios on their own and turn on a screen without adult assistance). Or perhaps it’s my own age catching up to me, as I’ve lost the ability to sleep in and instead revel in the joy of a few extra minutes of calm before the morning frenzy of getting everyone out the door. As the days grow shorter and colder, I’m reminded of the importance of practicing gratitude.
In a dark month in a challenging year in what seems determined to be a “VUCA” decade, gratitude for all the bright spots in my life — big, small, and teeny-tiny — is what helps shift my attitude from a sense that I need to power through to get to some unknown stress-free place, to instead take a big deep breath, notice what’s around me in the present, and truly relish the gifts right before my eyes.
Bright pink begonias. A great night’s sleep. Grandma Esther’s “Magic Soup.” Nail art. A call from a dear friend. My health. Long hugs from my kids after being away. Sweater weather. A morning without rushing. Making up after a fight.
These are a smattering of entries over the last few weeks in my five-minute journal, answering the first prompt: Three things I am grateful for...
Over five-years ago, a member of my “circle of trust” shared her experience using the journal. She took it out of her bag, showing us the well-worn pages in the front half with the soon-to-be filled out daily pages that followed. “Everyone has five minutes,” she argued. ”And really, it’s only three in the morning and two at night.” Then, she said: “It’s worth it. I promise.”
Following the gratitude prompt comes: “What would make today great?” — a seemingly simple question that always forces me to pause and reflect on what matters most. Sometimes I’m surprised by what emerges. Not the high-priority tasks on my to-do list, but rather the feelings I hope to experience that day: enjoying the walk to work. Staying calm during a challenging meeting. Extra snuggle time putting my kids to bed.
It’s then in the evening that I’m faced with its counterquestion: “Three amazing things that happened today...” It’s remarkable how many days these two play off one another, where my intention set in the morning becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ever since this daily practice was shared with me, it’s been in my life, albeit, in fits and starts. Sometimes the world’s woes rightly demand upset and outrage. Giving myself the permission to feel the full range of human emotions, including the negative ones induced by challenge, is just as important as finding the serenity of gratitude. However, those are often the days I miss and I fall out of the routine. Sometimes, when I notice I'm feeling particularly “glass half empty,” I realize I’ve lapsed. But documenting the bright spots in my life helps me remember why I’m here. And when I forget, it’s simply time to start again. No judgement.
Like my friend, I started first with the hardbound book. Now, I use the digital app on my phone. It’s one of the only notifications I allow — reminders for how to start and close my days well. The digital version gives me the ability to include photos, where my gratitude is best captured in an image rather than words. A sunset. The curl cascading down my daughter’s forehead. That tiny brown fleck in my son's bright blue eyes. Our dog’s unseemly back-sleeping position.
The daily practice closes with the question: “How could you have made the day better?”
While I enjoy flipping through my gratitude entries, it’s the answers I write to this question that I return to most. Some are self-care reminders: going for a walk or getting a manicure. But most are about the people in my life. Following up with a teammate after a misunderstanding. Not raising my voice in exasperation the 10th time I asked my daughter to brush her teeth. These entries are never about office work (clearing out my inbox or checking off a to do). Rather, they’re reminders of the moments of human connection I missed out on or longed for.
As we move into this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in this five-minute practice. It’s a gift that was given to me that I hope becomes a gift to you, too. It’s helped me hold onto and fully see the beautiful people, kind words, constructive criticism, and audacious achievements that fill my days.
Many of my gratitude entries this fall encompass aspects of returning to the office and being together — in the same physical location — as my remarkable colleagues. I am immensely grateful for the chance to once again be together in real life. Coworking with awesome people working hard on difficult problems together is such a joy. This month, my colleagues Nick Kusner and Lucie Addison will leave us, Lucie returning home to Australia and Nick moving on to new adventures. They have had a transformative impact on Einhorn Collaborative, and I will miss them both.
I am also grateful to have the wise counsel of Rachel Godsil and Dr. Sandra Chapman at Perception Institute, who have been helping our team navigate the complexity of our journey towards more deeply understanding racism and belonging. In addition to being willing to complicate the narrative, I am always seeking to learn more about myself and the world. Both Rachel and Dr. Chap have taught me so much, and I am grateful for our remarkable team accompanying me on this journey.
This month, we went Through the Prism with Becky Margiotta, a great teacher of mine and I know many of yours too! Becky’s experience ranges from helping 100,000 homeless people get off the street and into homes to creating Billions Institute and the Skid Row School of Large-Scale Social Change, that I was fortunate enough to attend many years ago. I am grateful to Becky for changing the way I see myself and understand the world. If you don’t know Becky or her work, I encourage you to embrace her wisdom and experience in her forthcoming book, Impact with Integrity: Repair the World Without Breaking Yourself. You can pre-order Becky’s book, and read more about her, below.
In this newsletter, you also have access to great insights from across our team and partners. Our Bonding Lead Ira Hillman reflects on World Prematurity Day (November 17), as a parent and also as the person leading our efforts to advance specialized nurture interventions for the 10 percent of American babies born prematurely. Our Building Lead Jonathan Gruber writes about the concept of shared humanity and practical, research-backed ways to see our shared humanity in a new light. Resources below cover the themes of gratitude as we move into the holiday season.
We invite you to start your gratitude journey with Greater Good In Action or sign up for Braver Angels’ new social media workshop to learn how to engage across difference. Explore how we might approach fixes to the world’s problems, and learn how laughter is one of the best antidotes to conflict. Get a jump on holiday giving: check out The Gratitude Project. Or for the changemaker in your life: the Greater Good Toolkit.
Thank you to everyone who has given us feedback on this newsletter. As we move into the new year, we will continue to seek to serve this growing community in meaningful and powerful ways.
I wish you a restful and restorative Thanksgiving holiday.
Jenn Hoos Rothberg
Executive Director, Einhorn Collaborative