With the swift passing of Halloween, the time for holiday cheer and good tidings takes center stage. Before Christmas music narrates every aspect of life and Black Friday shoppers trample everything in sight, Thanksgiving comes — and, with it, a wholesome reminder to be thankful even in the wake of chaos.
That’s all well and good on paper, but in practice, remaining thankful when things feel hopeless seems like climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops — impossible. Numerous sources, ranging from the Dalai Lama to Harvard Medicine, can vouch for the importance of gratefulness. But how does one live out a grateful and purposeful existence when so many facets in life seem to constantly erupt into mayhem?
College students have become masters of chaos. We have learned to work multiple jobs, go to class, study for tests, form social lives and apply for internships, all while battling sleep deprivation and the looming threat of adulthood.
Functioning under high levels of stress seems sustainable until it catches up with a person. Along with physical complications like low energy, headaches and insomnia, the Mayo Clinic found that chronic stress increases a person’s chances of depression and anxiety. The mental detriments of chronic stress, coupled with an uptick in pessimism among the Gen Z and millennial generations, makes perpetual gratefulness and thankfulness a near impossible feat — only achievable for minimally dressed yogis who eat organic food and travel the world.
I am not an expert, but, as a recovering pessimist and an anxious young person trying to de-stress, I have picked up a few tricks to see the world through a slightly more grateful lense.
The first thing that comes before active thankfulness is the elimination of stressors. Anything that consistently hinders a person’s ability to enjoy life can be considered a stressor. While we can’t get rid of everything that induces stress, we can try to cut out unnecessary people and commitments that amount to massive anxiousness. Toxic friends, demanding partners and dreaded social commitments can all be easily eliminated for the sake of mental and emotional well-being.
With the elimination of stressors comes the importance of taking care of oneself. The body needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night and three meals a day. If a person isn’t giving their body what it needs, the exhaustion — at least, in my experience — makes life feel much more disillusioned. There’s plenty of science behind how sleep deprivation and exhaustion affect mood and mental health, but, at the end of the day, it comes down to putting yourself first.
Examining the things in life that cause stress and then removing those aspects is the first step to feeling good about the space a person occupies. Feeling rested and nourished makes it easier to recognize how lucky a person is.
After stressors are removed, gratefulness becomes a matter of purposeful paradigm shift. It’s easy to see the world in shades of negativity and pessimism, but staring in the face of mayhem and finding something to be grateful for takes commitment and conscious perspective. One has to choose to be grateful even through trials and tribulations. Being appreciative toward life in general is not something that happens overnight.
I have found that gratitude is a choice. When life feels like it is unraveling, a person has the choice to let it affect every semblance of their life or to bask in the positive aspects of existence.
I’m definitely not a guru or someone who breathes happiness, rainbows and sunshine. In fact, I have been a consistent pessimist since middle school when I thought expecting the worst made me intellectual and edgy.
However, in light of some recent mental breakdowns, I’ve slowly realized the importance of tenuous optimism. There has been a distinct change in my perspective after I stepped back to observe aspects of life that deserve a subtle thanksgiving.
Life, especially in college, can be a chaotic mess. But if we can choose to show up for ourselves, take care of our basic needs and recognize the vast wonder that surrounds us, maybe we can begin to truly see the world with hope.