I’ve been struggling with how to be thankful. I think back to my elementary-school days, when all of us small children would flail out Sharpie-scrawled lists of “Things I’m Thankful For.” Common denominators among the class: food; my bed; my house; my friends.
I remember it was a kind of self-shock, consciously remembering the little things I take for granted. Count your blessings. Usually, that command implied a directive to compare ourselves with the less fortunate. Weigh yourself and your situation with those around you. There’s always someone worse off than you. At least you have food to eat, so why are you worrying about your grades? You should be thankful for what you have. The classic “There Are Starving Children in Africa” argument—finish your food.
This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
The way I saw it, being ‘thankful’ was a Thanksgiving Day affair—or at least, a set handful of minutes in which I temporarily leave my place on the Hierarchy to dwell on the lower levels. I might be struggling up ‘esteem,’ grasping for its higher levels to get fractions closer to the bottom of ‘self-actualization.’ But being thankful involved temporarily giving up that struggle to think about the levels already achieved. Stop cramming SAT prep to be grateful for the desk I’m sitting at, the dinner I just ate, the ceiling between my practice test booklets and the rain. Stop worrying about Nutcracker ballet auditions to consider the millions of people in this nation who can’t afford to take a ballet class. Stop complaining about losing writing competitions to consider the luxury I have in owning a computer.
To be honest, I’m still there. I wish I could see a way to reconcile thankfulness and persistence. But I don’t. I see two states of being: 1) pushing forward—bettering yourself—grinding towards the goal—forgetting the road as you tread it, and 2) looking back, stock-still—viewing the road, remembering every turn of it—pitying the dark figures who are stuck in the surrounding fields, far from even touching the path. There’s no way to simultaneously run a race and look back—you can’t sprint with your head craned back. You’re either running forward, eye on the prize—or stopping, looking back the way you came. Or, it’s possible to face back and run backwards, still towards the goal, but very slowly.
For me, it’s next-to-impossible to study effectively for an APUSH test while dwelling on my luckiness to have paper. I can’t turn a triple pirouette if my mind is on an East Austin kid who only dreams of dance. I can’t function as a writer if I’m constantly in awe of my possession of ten functioning fingers.
So this is my thought:
Being successful at achieving ‘self-actualization,’ or any of one’s goals, requires a certain degree of selfishness. If selflessness is leaving the self, overwhelmingly recognizing and thankful for all 360° of life, then selfishness is focusing solely on the self—how can I better myself, how can I push myself to win, what method can I use to push my burning legs further to the checkered flag. Selfishness allows you to disregard others in the goal of furthering yourself. And that is how people achieve success—not by being thankful, but by being hungry. Successful people always want more.
There must be a way to live in a constant state of ‘diluted’ thankfulness, or a different variety of it that means, simply, appreciation. Still running forward, but with spatial awareness—a knowledge of the left-behind that informs my going-forward. I just haven’t found it yet.
That’s probably where God comes in.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
Isabella – 11/24/16