Rethinking the concept of thankfulness

Thankfulness is more than recognizing your own privilege

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Athena Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. When I was younger, it was all about the food. My family would always have at least two pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgivings, either at church and/or a family friend’s house. That week of Thanksgiving meals has always been my favorite week of the year. Someday, when I’m on my deathbed, I will ask for my last meal to be a traditional Thanksgiving feast –– but please hold the cranberry sauce.

Now, I’m older, and it’s still very much about the food — mainly the mashed potato recipe my mom and I have perfected over the years, my mom’s household-famous dinner rolls and the pies my brother and I always attempt to make, but which often fall short of excellence. Over the years, I realized that my favorite part of Thanksgiving transitioned from indulging in the comfort foods I loved so much to spending quality time with my family, tweaking old recipes and laughing at our failed attempts at pumpkin pie. But also just the food.

More recently, I’ve started attaching a moral crusade to my defense of Thanksgiving as the best holiday of all time. Not only is it a time for family and friends, I argue, but it’s also a holiday that serves to remind us of all the things we should be truly thankful for. Despite all the obstacles that come with the ins-and-outs of typical undergraduate life, Thanksgiving always comes to remind us that there is really much more to be aware of and thankful for.

Of course, there are layers to this. On a small scale, I am thankful I have a loving and supportive family, great friends, the opportunity to attend and afford an education at an esteemed university and even more trivial things like my dog Lexi. If you look at it from a bigger picture, though, there are limitless reasons as to why we should be thankful. We’re lucky that we live in a place where we can exercise our freedoms, participate in a democracy and even do things like surf the web at our own discretion (sort of).

But we all know that we have a lot to be thankful for, I’m sure. This isn’t news, but it is worth assessing all the things we have to be thankful for individually and realizing that even people we are close to don’t have the same set of privileges. Reflecting on your own privilege is nice and eye-opening. Recognizing the privileges, or lack thereof, of those around you, though, is arguably more important and definitely more humbling.

This Thanksgiving, like all the others, I will be stoked about the food. I am going to go home and be so happy to see my family, especially my brother who I don’t get to see often anymore now that we’re old. We will make our favorite family mashed potato recipe, and my brother and I will attempt a new pie recipe this year, I’m sure. We will all go around the table and talk about things we’re thankful for, and we will probably reflect inwardly about some of those things as well.

My father always invites those in his lab who can’t go home for Thanksgiving to our home for the meal. It has never bothered me that they would come over, though admittedly their presence would occasionally change the family table dynamic.

When I was younger, I sometimes wished it could just be our family so I could eat loudly, share all my semester’s secrets, change into sweats halfway through the meal and act without inhibitions. I would be thankful then, but I realize now that being thankful is more than just acknowledging your own blessings. Instead, being thankful is also being aware of what those around you may not have. In the case of my father’s students, that was an easy trip home to spend Thanksgiving with their families or even maybe a family to go home to at all.

Being thankful and counting your blessings is great. Going one step further and using that as a call to action, however, is enormously more impactful. While you think about all the reasons you have to be thankful this Thanksgiving break, it’s worth a moment to also think about those you may be able to impact given your privilege.

Soon, I will go home and sit at the dining room table with my family and my father’s lab students. I will likely have to make small talk and suffer as my stiff jeans feel tighter, save the more inappropriate stories for a later time and practice table etiquette — but this year, I am getting older and reconsidering the term “thankful,” so I will know that all of these things are small prices to pay to afford someone else the opportunity of a family Thanksgiving meal. The occasion to be thankful, it turns out, is really just a call to action.

Athena Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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