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Elizabeth Untama / Gavel Media

Gratitude Amidst the Grind

As 2019 comes to a close, the Thanksgiving season arrives once more. When asked the inevitable “What are you grateful for?,” most students tick off items that bear a striking resemblance to one another. Parents, friends, relatives. Occasionally, “The privilege to be at BC!” or “My dog!” The overwhelming consensus is that the people around us greatly impact our lives. Verbally expressing this appreciation sounds simple, but unfortunately, in college it can be surprisingly easy to take the individuals whom we love most for granted.

The university environment is unique in that it can oftentimes literally drain joy from the holiday season. A combination of final examinations and projects that fall within a span of two weeks can lead to over-saturation of students in work. At a time of year when people are encouraged to draw closer together, students are forced to instead retreat inward for studying.

Even social settings become tainted by visions of the work waiting ahead. Deadlines become a topic of discussion at formals: How many do you have left, and how soon will you be finished? Suddenly, meeting up with friends feels like a risky way to spend time—shouldn’t you be studying? Entire evenings, often straight through to morning, are spent in the library. Students trudge through their finals days, all the while growing more detached from one another and more anxious to leave.

The pattern starts, tragically, right around Thanksgiving. 

In taking a deep breath and a step back, students can take the chance to reflect—a talent on which BC students pride themselves. The typical undergraduate experience lasts only four years. That leaves eight fleeting semesters, not only to earn passing grades, but also to enjoy ourselves while doing so.

Each year pulls students in different directions. The freshmen class can rely on seeing their peers the following year, living together nearby in readily accessible dorms. Sophomores looking forward to junior year can expect more changes, as some juniors move off-campus while others globe-trot in pursuit of the study abroad experience. Juniors can expect a “reunion” senior year (more than 90% of BC seniors return to campus). But senior year comes with an emotional weight of its own.

To put studies ahead of all else sounds reasonable. But during finals week, many students are so completely exhausted that they are unable to even debrief with roommates or grab lunch with friends. They scroll through Facebook to discover seasonal events in Boston, only to remember that there is too much work to do.

Stress will always exist in life, but college will not. College students live in the vicinity of close friends, yet friendships are often neglected just as the season for gratitude rolls around. In order to break this habit, students can find ways to come up for air during finals, dedicating time to those that form their support systems. 

Expressing gratitude for others could literally transform the atmosphere of BC’s campus during the final exam period. Social psychologists have referenced a theory called the “norm of reciprocity,” in which people mirror one another’s actions out of moral obligation. This is not to say that being thankful will prompt exchanges where people feel manipulated to respond, but it will instead launch a practice worthy of widespread adoption. 

This phenomenon is exemplified in a 1974 study conducted by Phillip Kunz. He sent holiday cards to the homes of 600 strangers, the contents including a family photograph and a hand-written message. Almost 200 families responded. These people were encouraged to send their own well-wishes, simply because they knew Kunz had thought of them. 

By letting friends know just how deeply they are valued, they will in turn be motivated to consider those who mean most to them. All it takes is one message of gratitude to set the ball rolling. 

Kunz’s wholesome, handmade touches should be noted. Using social media to praise friends for their existence is a start, but how much emotion can an Instagram story truly convey? Thoughtful and personalized expressions have a stronger impact and come across as more authentic. This could mean buying roommates their favorite candies or even sending friends well thought out texts of appreciation.

Thanksgiving marks a time when we, as supposed men and women for others, owe it to each other to boost campus morale through acts of gratitude. None of our college memories would be possible without the people we have grown with along the way, and nothing can change that—not even the start of finals. There is no better season, or reason, to say “Thanks!”

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Next to writing, some of my favorite ways to spend time include designing Spotify playlists for friends and making grocery runs to Trader Joe's. I'm drinking coffee or tea almost constantly, and my mantra is the classic yet undeniably basic, "If it's meant to be, it will be!"