by Sharon Fleshman
As the fall semester and the year 2010 quickly draw to a close, Thanksgiving Break is typically welcomed for a number of reasons. It is a chance to play catch-up before the flurry of finals to come and papers and projects that are due. It allows for connecting with family and friends, even if the Thanksgiving holiday is not part of your cultural tradition. Though it may seem obvious, Thanksgiving also offers an opportunity to be more intentional about the practice of gratitude. We tend to take inventory at the end of a year. Whether conscious of it or not, we may ask ourselves, “Did I accomplish what I set out to do this year?” In cases where the answer is “no”, unmet expectations can be quite disappointing and perhaps even disillusioning. Here is where the power of gratitude really comes in handy. In their most recent blog posts, my colleagues Barbara Hewitt and Julie Vick have already pointed to some wonderful things to be thankful for, such as a Penn education as well as the contribution that those in various careers make. To that list, I would add a few more items. I would encourage you to also be thankful for:
1) A sense of calling and purpose: I think that human beings are wired with the desire to make an impact on the world around them. How this occurs is going to evolve over the course of your life. You may set goals at a given time and find that you have to shift gears and tweak those goals. Still, it is a vital part of personhood to want to find meaning in life.
2) A time to learn about yourself: In addition to learning about your discipline or major, college seems to be a great launching point for a self-discovery process that will continue to empower you to affirm your strengths and confront areas that could hinder your growth.
3) A support system: I can’t stress enough how crucial this is, especially when you struggle with the first two items I mentioned. I hope you have established a support system at this point, but if not, you can give thanks for availability of campus resources that can help you form one. Whether it is the campus counseling center, a faith community, or the many other resource centers on campus, support is necessary and available.
All three of these items were really what made my own time as a student at Penn so rewarding. To reinforce my third point, I refer you to a classic TV episode, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, that reminds me of the importance of gratitude in the midst of unmet expectations. For those who are not familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition in the United States, it revolves around a meal that brings everyone around a common table for dishes such as roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potato or pumpkin pie, etc… So what happens when you expect this typical Thanksgiving feast and end up around a ping-pong table with plates of toast, jelly beans, pretzels, and popcorn? At first, you will ask questions like: “What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the mashed potatoes?” In a broader sense, all of us at some point wonder, “What kind of life is this? Where’s the job offer… great relationship…meaningful career?” But hopefully, you look around, and become grateful for those at the table and the opportunity to eventually help others who have less access to support and resources. Happy Thanksgiving!