Before I go to sleep each night, I open up a small, gray notebook and write down three things I feel thankful for that day. When I was an undergrad, a student I taught told me his attitude towards life greatly improved after practicing gratitude and journaling each day. Although I was initially skeptical, I figured the worst that could happen would be that I wasted a few minutes I would have otherwise used to watch random YouTube videos. But since I started writing these daily entries in 2019, I have not faltered in this practice of reflecting on the good in my life.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving and recognizing all the things we ought to be thankful for, I would like to share some of my favorite entries since starting medical school:
Sunday 7/25/21 Pho broth
Thursday 8/5/21 Free food and kind classmates
Sunday 8/8/21 Power of love as witnessed through a friend’s virtual wedding ceremony
Sunday 8/15/21 My own cooking turning out OK
Friday 8/20/21 Naps
Monday 8/23/21 Video Speed Controller
Monday 8/30/21 Kind upper classmates
Friday 9/10/21 Sharing love of Shang-Chi with friends
Monday 9/13/21 Friends’ timely check-ins
Monday 9/20/21 Concentration in class
Thursday 9/23/21 Learning, even if slowly
Sunday 9/26/21 Anatomy TAs
Tuesday 9/28/21 Good TV shows (Squid Game)
Saturday 10/2/21 Climbing with friends and sleeping in
Tuesday 10/12/21 Leaving class early
Wednesday 10/20/21 Talking to old friends through video chat
Friday 10/29/21 Dogs
Saturday 10/30/21 Texts from family
Thursday 11/11/21 Cantonese music from my childhood (especially Teresa Teng)
Since beginning medical school, various thoughts have burrowed their way into my head alongside, and sometimes instead of, the innumerable high-yield facts I have learned from lectures these past few months. How many hours of lecture and Boards and Beyond have I left unwatched? How did I let this many Anki cards build up? Did I remember to wish my college buddy a happy birthday? When was the last time I called my parents? But every night in Marie Kondo fashion, I declutter my mind, releasing these self-critical thoughts and focusing on the things and people that spark joy in my life.
Reflecting on what I have been grateful for since starting medical school, I cannot say I am surprised by what I have written (except for the four separate Shang-Chi related entries; I highly recommend watching the film). The things I am most thankful for tend to be considered minor or can be easily overlooked. For instance, I am thankful for the fact I have not given myself food poisoning through my own cooking (which I dare say has improved over the past few months). Another major portion of my entries centers on the ordinary interactions with people in my life who helped shape me into the person I am today and who continue to support me as I begin my journey to become a physician. On days I struggle with the feeling that I do not dedicate enough time to my loved ones, a simple text or call from them lets me know they understand.
Practicing gratitude every day for the past two years has made me realize that even on my worst days, there are things and people I can say with certainty that I am glad they are part of my life. In just the first few months of medical school, while I have had feelings of self-doubt, I have had so many things to be thankful for, like the opportunity to get to know some of my amazing classmates and learn from caring faculty and physicians. As my classmates and I undergo more physically and emotionally taxing challenges throughout our time as medical students, it will be the seemingly insignificant quotidian events that motivate us to finish our Anki reviews, grind through a seemingly endless onslaught of exams, and strive to be better physicians for our patients. Many people say a medical career means choosing a life of delayed gratification, but in a way, it does not have to be like that. Sometimes you have to examine your life a bit more closely and give thanks for the little things.