We are encouraged to connect with the phenomenon of gratitude each year around the season of Thanksgiving. While surrounded by family and friends, it is easy to be thankful for the roof over our heads, food on our plates and the necessities we often take for granted. The warmth and contentment that comes from this recognition is part of what makes the holiday season so special, but there’s no reason we shouldn't retain this attitude of appreciation throughout the rest of the year.
There are countless experts who recommend the practice of keeping a gratitude journal as an attempt to maintain this spirit of proper acknowledgment and attribution in our daily lives. Practicing gratitude can look different for everyone. Some people find solace in journaling, while others take time to alleviate their stress through practices like yoga or meditation. However, I prefer to see gratitude as a mindset rather than an obligatory practice. The practice of gratitude is something that can be learned, refined and improved upon, just like any other skill. I believe college students are the demographic that can best benefit from this practice.
From an outside perspective, the life of an undergrad is relatively straightforward. Our lives are encompassed within the borders of our college campus — we work, play and grow within a few miles from the school’s grounds.
However, there are times where I feel as if I am preparing for two separate lives — the student, who should be working on her upcoming paper and the young professional, who should be actively networking and applying to summer internships. At the end of the day it’s easy to feel as if I’ve come up short in one category or another, and the balancing act can be exhausting.
Last semester, my unaccomplished tasks were the last thing I thought about when I went to bed at night and the first thing I thought about in the morning. By the time midterms rolled around, to say I was burned out would have been an understatement. Only after the semester ended was I able to take a step back and reflect on how much I accomplished. I had newfound appreciation for what an impressive feat managing a higher education really is. Finding this sense of gratitude — for the opportunity to attend a university, for the progress I have made since my first year, for the connections I have been able to build — was cathartic in the moment, but may have served me better had I taken the time to reflect on my experiences regularly throughout the semester.
Our culture propagates perpetual productivity and implies that if you have not crossed every item off of your list, started your own business and completed a marathon by the end of the day, you have fallen short. In these moments, I’ve found gratitude affords me the motivation to tackle whatever challenges are coming my way.
Practicing gratitude cuts the negative self-talk and broadens the perspective of my day. Appreciating the people who have improved and supported my college experience reminds me I'm not alone and inspires me to help others. Instead of venting about all the things that went wrong throughout the day, we can challenge ourselves to begin recognizing our successes and the forces that supported us or simply something that made us smile. Gratitude differs from toxic positivity in that it actively acknowledges our struggles and serves as a tool to work through them.
For a successful spring semester, I recommend we all challenge ourselves to use gratitude as a lens through which we view our daily challenges. Younger generations are often labeled as ungrateful, however I believe that we have simply been encouraged and conditioned by society to keep our eyes on the next best thing.
Ambition is a valuable asset, but it can bring us down if we don’t take the proper time to appreciate our beginnings. As college students we're always encouraged to look ahead, but it's important to remember to look back every once in a while.