Print by Clairice Gifford
Thanksgiving just isn’t my holiday, okay?
For one, my family doesn’t even celebrate it; Thursday night will most likely find us crowded around the kitchen table like every other weeknight, albeit with takeout food instead of my mom’s amazing homemade dinners, because she deserves a vacation from cooking.
I used to livestream the University of Texas Longhorns football game to my freshman year Whatsapp group, but since the Big 12 decided to schedule the game for Friday this year, even that measly tradition is no longer mine (I’m sure my class is pleased though- I was quite annoying and vocal about it).
Of course, there’s also the fact that Thanksgiving celebrates the genocide of America’s native people. Personally, I haven’t done enough research to know the full extent of this claim, but my cursory knowledge would confirm this viewpoint, and it’s tragic.
But there’s a real reason why Thanksgiving isn’t a day I demarcate differently from any other day off from school: it’s because I truly believe that every day should be Thanksgiving. Why is the fourth Thursday in November any different?
Story time: one of my cousins was just telling me that in second grade, her teacher didn’t believe in Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day, for that matter), because it made it seem like there was only one day a year where a person had any obligation to appreciate her mother or father. And that isn’t true! So on a random day in the middle of the year, my cousin and her class made a Mother’s Day project, and the mothers loved it.
I feel this way about Thanksgiving. Designating one day a year to be grateful seems awfully trite and insincere, and we can do better. Personally, I recite formal prayers twice a day, not to mention all the little conversations I’ll have in my head with God (hey, I have a stats exam now, please help me remember all the distributions and their formulas? Half hour later: thumbs up, thanks for the help!) and there is a designated blessing in both prayers for thanksgiving in a general sense. Every person is required to be thankful on a daily basis, and I think that’s so important.
I could end right here if I wanted; message delivered and hopefully accepted. But I want to make this personal. I want to really inspire you, my much-appreciated reader, to become a grateful person whose “thank you”s slip easily off her tongue. So story time, part two.
One day I came to school and I was sad. This has been my life for the past seven or so years; random bouts of what I hesitantly refer to as depression, only because I haven’t been medically diagnosed, and haven’t so much as taken psych 101 in my illustrious college career. It’s this: hours, or days, and in September or February, usually weeks, where the sadness just becomes debilitating, because it’s so heavy it slowly crushes my lungs, my chest. My heart.
So it’s some day in late September when I show up to math class and the melancholy makes it hard to speak, to listen, to try and work out a problem I should be able to do. And I have a wonderful friend who notices that I’m blue, and not for the first time. She shows me funny videos of her niece, buys me chocolate, gives me a long hug. And when a few days later I’m feeling like myself again, she texts me, and says: I noticed you’re sad a lot, and it hurts me that you feel this way. So I was thinking that every night we could text each other one thing we’re thankful for. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Just one thing.
And I thought, it can’t hurt. Let’s try it.
I wish I could say that I’m cured. Spoiler: I’m not. October regressed into a horrible couple of weeks. As I’m writing this, it’s cold and windy and the air is hard to breathe from all the gloom it carries. Sometimes I still have days where I need to listen to the Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” on repeat five or six times until I find the energy to move.
But it’s okay. Because no matter how bad a day becomes, at the end of it there has to be one redeeming factor. When I’m myself, my gratitude is generally a bit deeper; I’m thankful for friendship, for getting the answer right in a tricky class and earning a professor’s praise, for a life of meaning. But sometimes I’ll have silly responses, where I’ll be grateful for pizza, a new sweater, losing a couple pounds.
And on the days where getting myself from one minute to the next feels like wading through mud, I have to be present enough to focus on one thing that made this day go right. Once the only thing I could come up with was that I was grateful that the Yankees hadn’t made the postseason, because I didn’t have the energy to keep up with baseball anymore. And it meant just as much as any other more serious response up to that point.
Just today a teacher of mine told me something that changed my perspective completely. She used Stephen Covey’s definition of happiness (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), which is that happiness is putting aside what you want now for what you want later, to explain that happiness stems from optimism. By foregoing something in the present for something in the future, a person is forced to believe that what lies ahead is worth waiting for, because it is a future that is welcoming and bright.
And that is how it is possible to be depressed, yet still happy, something I hadn’t believed possible, despite the vehement protestations of my parents and sister to the contrary. All it takes is the notion that one thing is worth living for now, and that one thing will remain worth living for tomorrow. And that affected me like no other words ever have.
I’m not healed, not even close, but I’m optimistic. And right now, that’s enough.
I want to challenge you to celebrate thanksgiving, a real thanksgiving, every day for a month. Choose one thing daily that you are grateful for, without repeating, and share it. Do it with a friend, a relative, a blank notebook. If you want, I’ll partner with you; it would be a privilege to interact with you this way, to know what makes you happy.
I’ll start off, right now. Today I am thankful for the ability to communicate with these words. Because if this reaches even one person, I will have made a difference, and in the end, that’s all I could ever ask for.