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Swat-sgiving, and why thankfulness matters

in Columns/Opinions/Words of Wagner by

Swarthmore can be overwhelming and tiring. Classes are often difficult, and sometimes campus feels like a rat-race. Sometimes, I get to Sharples and just cannot bring myself to wait in the line for the bar I want, and so I settle for a less satisfactory alternative. Sometimes I miss the shuttle from PPR to campus by less than a minute. Sometimes I do make it onto the evening shuttle, only to be taken to Mary Lyons and then back to campus before going back to PPR. Waking up in the morning is hard after staying up doing work. There is an endless litany of complaints about Swarthmore, far beyond the ones that I have listed here. But I was recently reminded about how lucky I am to go here by a pizza delivery driver at 1:00a.m. on Halloween weekend. When I met the delivery driver in the PPR circle, he mentioned how great of a school Swarthmore is and how I am fortunate to get to go here. I looked up towards campus, took it all in, thanked him, and agreed that I am so, so lucky.

As the holiday season progresses, I think it is important that we, as a community, take a moment to take stock of what we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving itself can be tough, travelling with family can be difficult, and returning home and seeing people from high school is often awkward. And presumably, there are some first-years that tried to make a long-distance relationship work who are going to be both victims and perpetrators of the infamous dump-sgiving festivities. Despite all of that, it’s a built-in day of the year to look around and take in the best parts of life. Thanksgiving is one week from today, but thankfulness should be something we practice every day.

While every person faces a unique set of personal challenges ranging in magnitude, thankfulness is something that many people can benefit from. I forced myself to become an optimist in my early teens by filling a jar with at least one good thing that happened to me that day written on an index card, and my outlook on life changed permanently. Being thankful for the most trivial things in my life made me happier. Was I lowering the bar for things that brought me joy? I quite possibly was, but getting excited about small accomplishments and casual events increased my average level of joy. Thankfulness is not a panacea; it cannot improve situations that are outside of one’s immediate control, but it can be comforting to many, and is something that we often forget. Thankfulness can change the way we see the world, and in its best form, can soften the blow of disappointments and increase the joy of success. Even on my worst days, I am trained to look for one good thing and harness it so any day can be positive. There is no one person, thing, or activity that we should be thankful for, so we should all look for many things that we can be thankful for. Life is not just the big successes, life happens in the small moments, so when we don’t let ourselves enjoy the small things that make us happy because they don’t fit in with what we typically see as success, we can lose out on life.

Life is messy, and it is often full of surprises. Sometimes, we don’t do as well as we wanted on assignments; other times we do better than expected. We have bad weeks, good days, rough moments, and happy times. There are certainly times when we don’t have to be thankful, people that we don’t have to be grateful to, and experiences that just really bring us down. What makes graditude beautiful is that it is entirely determined by an individual and is for that individual. Of course, those that we are thankful to appreciate graciousness and many deserve it, but the real benefits of thankfulness are inherent in our own selves. Determining one’s own thankfulness helps fill the soul with warmth and lets a person create their own happiness, regardless of outside expectations and naysayers.

I am thankful for every time that I wake up and start a new day, and every time I make it to the morning shuttle in time and can skip a chilly walk to campus. Any time that Sci Center still has my favorite kind of bagel when I get to the front of the line fills me with a sense of contentment that I have trained myself to feel and enjoy. I like to look on the bright side of life because, if I don’t, my life would be taken over by problem sets and papers, and while there is no one way to cope with the rigor of Swarthmore, we’re pretty damn lucky to be here, and reminding ourselves of that, right along with the tiny successes and moments of bliss, can maybe help us all keep it together just a little bit more as the second round of midterms hits right before Thanksgiving.

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