This time last year, my semester in Spain was coming to an end. I was lucky enough to have been invited to spend the holidays in a suburb of Madrid. My friend’s father played guitar and led a chorus of 45 family members through song and prayer before a feast of traditional Spanish cuisine. I was truly overwhelmed, simultaneously feeling both extreme joy and sadness. Comparing my family to hers, and wishing that we were as strong a unit, diminished my ability to be fully present in the celebration.
A few days later on a plane back to Granada, I told the man sitting next to me about my recent holiday in Madrid and about my family in America. Since my parents’ divorce, the holidays have been a source of great sadness for me. My new conversation partner responded in a way that I didn’t anticipate. He said,
You have a choice. You can focus on what you don’t have or you can focus on all that you do.
I have thought about this statement every day since.
This interaction on the plane awakened me. Why could I only recall feeling grateful on good days, but on the days where I struggled, I hadn’t practiced any gratitude. When there are burdens, struggles, and drama, it’s hard to feel grateful. However, we are faced with a decision: do we wait until life gets better again or can we start where we are, in the midst of problems and challenges? Gratitude starts with each of us exactly where we are. Instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful, we have the ability to bring gratitude to each and every day.
Before I knew the power of gratitude, I was stuck. Yes, my family is a bit fragmented. But how much greater would it have felt to tell that man on the plane that both of my parents are my biggest fans, who support my dreams to live and study abroad? In the year since this interaction, I can attest that practicing gratitude has brought a sense of peace to my life that I didn’t know possible. Why? Because gratitude is a reciprocal process. When you show someone you’re grateful for them, it boosts your own self-esteem and happiness.
Let’s start now! As we head into the holiday break, make a mental list of the people in your life who you value. For first-year students: who has supported you through your transition to college? Who has worked to make you feel comfortable at Ohio State and who are you grateful to have met? Use your abilities to bring gratitude to each day. Start by letting those faculty members, advisors, Residence Life staff, peer leaders, family, and friends that you are thankful for their presence in your life. I challenge you to start with just one person. Gratitude catches on and spreads like wildfire. In no time, we will have cultivated a culture of gratitude in the Ohio State community.
Thank you for reading.