What it Really Means to be Grateful

Kathleen Mackey, Managing Editor

We are officially a week away from arguably the best meal of the year and as I start to think about which outfit will allow me to bask in my post-feast coma most comfortably, I’ve also been thinking about what it really means to be grateful. Conveniently enough, after listening to Ariana Grande’s most recent single, “thank u, next,” approximately a thousand times (give or take), I’ve realized it provides a perfect framework for what I believe gratitude is.

If you know me well, you know that I’m quite the Grande enthusiast, so I’ll take any opportunity I can to rave about her. But, really, what I admire her greatly for is her ability to turn a negative or mournful situation into something positively impactful. While the song is very empowering for anyone dealing with heartbreak, the message transcends far beyond getting over an ex. For me, it’s about taking your deepest of lows, reflecting on them and acknowledging how they’ve taught you and helped you to grow – a message that’s refreshing to hear in a chart-topping track. And as we celebrate the season of giving thanks, it’s a perfectly timed reminder that holding in feelings of resentment and bitterness simply isn’t healthy and is, quite honestly, exhausting.

It’s one thing to celebrate all of the things we’re lucky to have, but to embrace hardships, failures and losses, to me, is what being thankful is all about. As college students, we so easily face feelings of defeat, whether it’s doing poorly on an exam or facing self-doubt about our future. But if there’s one thing my college experience has continuously taught me, it’s that, if it was all smooth sailing, there would be no opportunities for personal growth. It’s something I’ll continue to remember throughout the years to come.

I was surprised to learn recently that concept of feeling grateful isn’t something that’s just developed through social practices. It can actually be influenced by our genetic makeup, due to variations in a gene called CD38, which is associated with gratitude. This is why people sometimes find it easier to appreciate hardships rather than feeling resentful, explains New York Times columnist Arthur Brooks. He humorously theorized that, because of this scientific evidence, “Those relentlessly positive people you know who seem grateful all the time may just be mutants.” But he quickly added that “we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes.” So, while we can’t always choose what happens to us, what we go through or how we’ve been hurt, we certainly have the choice and the power to channel our hardships into gratitude. And by actively practicing such an outlook, we can evoke a more positive environment around us as a result.

Feeling thankful shouldn’t be exclusive to a holiday, but I’ll never be upset about having an entire day to eat stuffing, pie and all my other favorite carbs. But really, whether it’s by sharing what you’re thankful for around the dinner table next Thursday or by blasting “thank u, next” so loud your neighbors probably hate you (as I have), I hope you find reminders in your life that push you to take the time to practice small acts of gratitude. Celebrate the accomplishments, the failures and all of the ups and downs in between.