Random Notes of Gratitude
As an actress, writer, yogi, and displaced Colorado girl, I found myself in the undeniable throes of an existential crisis while driving to yet another commercial audition in the cement wilds of Los Angeles a little over two years ago. I had much to be grateful for, but I was having a hard time feeling it. Pondering my utter lack of gratitude, I chuckled aloud as I thought about the fact that I had just received half a dozen thank you calls and emails for thank you notes I had recently sent out. I have always loved the art of writing letters and notes, and in that moment it struck me as kind of sad that there were probably thousands of individuals out there that never received handwritten notes in the mail. That’s when it hit me: “You should start the Random Notes of Gratitude Project, Jana!”
I didn’t know what it was but I couldn’t let the idea go. After pondering the project for about a week, I finally decided that it didn’t matter what it looked like; the important part was to begin. I sent out my first weekly Random Note of Gratitude on March 14, 2012 to a woman named Dolores in Omaha, Nebraska. Quite simply, a RNG is a note that I send to a stranger, thanking them for being alive. Moving forward, I decided that I would send out a RNG every Wednesday and that for the first year I would send notes to women, hitting all the states along the way.
I honestly can’t remember how I came up with that first name. Often a name would pop into my head, and I would simply go to the White Pages website to see if that person existed. Once I found a FedEx packing slip with a name and address on it. Other times I asked friends to come up with a name, or I would take the name of someone I know and admire and see if there was another person with the same moniker out in the world. Those RNGs felt like a double whammy of thankfulness, even if I didn’t share them with the individuals that inspired them. A few times, friends and strangers have approached me with the name of someone they know that could use a RNG. I always love when this happens!
I must admit, when I first started sending out my Random Notes of Gratitude, I spent a lot of time worrying about things like whether or not I should include a return address, potentially offending the recipient, and even sending a RNG to an individual that might not be very deserving. Eventually I had to put all of that aside. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t control how an RNG might be received. More important was the intention with which I sent it. I even decided that it was none of my business what kind of person received a gratitude note from me – each and every one of us wants to be seen, recognized, and appreciated. One of the things I love most about this project is that it’s an opportunity for me to take my focus off myself. The act of sending these weekly thank you notes is like a meditation in which I feel connected to everyone else in this world of ours. Though I pick a name, I feel like these notes could be sent to anyone, myself included, and they remind me that our similarities as humans are a great deal more compelling than our differences.
Ultimately, I decided to include my return address. Of the 120 plus notes I have sent out, I’ve only heard back from a handful, but they have made my efforts more than worth it and encouraged me to keep at it. I’ll never forget opening my mailbox and receiving my first note back from a woman named Lindsey in West Virginia. “I was having a bad day when I got your Random Note of Gratitude card. It made me know that I am awesome.” I have that note memorized, and it still gives me perspective when I’m having a hard day. Along with our best moments, we all have our worst moments. Writing these little gratitude notes to strangers for the past couple years has taught me to appreciate that. Trust me when I say they are like gratitude lists to the power of a thousand.