Around dinner tables and on social media, families and friends are expressing gratitude as part of the Thanksgiving tradition.
But taking the time to reflect on the positive parts of our lives is more than just an engrained part of the holiday's celebration it also boosts our mental wellbeing, prompts us to give back to others and steers us on a healthy path.
"This ought not be something that happens only on Thanksgiving," says Robert Duke, a professor of music and human learning in the Butler School of Music. "If there's a resolution to be made at Thanksgiving, it's to be conscious of the positive things that happen in your life all the time and to not make this a momentary event that only happens because some holiday reminds you to be thankful."
Duke and psychology professor Art Markman star in the "Two Guys on Your Head" radio show on KUT News 90.5. Markman and Duke say memory and mood strongly affect one another, creating both "vicious and virtuous cycles."
"If you're in a bad mood, you tend to remember bad things from your life, which then makes you feel bad," Markman says. "If you want to break that cycle, one great way to do that is to think of the great things that have happened to you. Thinking of those things makes you feel better, which makes you notice more of the great things, and then you can create that virtuous cycle."
Giving thanks is an actionable step we can all take to begin living happier lives, Duke and Markman say.
"I don't have to rely on the whims of my emotional self to decide how I'm going to feel at any given moment," Duke says. "I can choose to focus on these things that are positive and I know bring me pleasure, and that will change the way I feel in the moment."
Giving thanks is also a humbling experience, as we realize we didn't accomplish our successes alone, Markman says. Realizing others are willing to lend a hand makes us willing to help others in need.
"Making that list of the things you're grateful for reminds you of all the people in your corner who have helped you in the past," Markman says, "and whom you can rely on to achieve things in the future."
With that in mind, The University of Texas at Austin family has a lot for which to be thankful this year: From the arrival of head football coach Charlie Strong to the profound generosity of donors who contributed $862 million to the Campaign for Texas during its final year, helping the state's most ambitious nonprofit fundraising effort ever to top its $3 billion goal by $120 million.
Following Duke and Markman's advice about showing gratitude, we made a list of accomplishments Longhorns can celebrate this Thanksgiving.
From the Top
This year brought The University of Texas at Austin more strong showings in collegiate rankings across the globe, giving Longhorns a great view from the top.
These five rankings highlight the university's academic prowess:
- UT Austin was ranked No. 30 in the world by U.S. News.
- UT Austin was named one of the top universities in the nation and world in four other rankings surveys.
- The Nature Index, a new ranking from the prestigious journal Nature, ranked the university among the world's best on its list of most productive scientific research institutions.
- UT Austin's graduate schools in business, education, engineering, geosciences and law are all ranked among the Top 15 in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report.
- As the flagship, UT Austin contributed to The University of Texas System's No. 5 ranking on the annual list of Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents.
[Did you know UT Austin is also the ninth-happiest college, has one of 11 coolest college recreation centers and is the most influential university on Twitter? Check out "The Other Rankings" that paint of picture of student life on the Forty Acres.]
At UT Austin students learn from the best professors, and we're thankful for everything our faculty members and leaders have accomplished this year.
President Bill Powers delivered his final State of the University address in September, touting achievements as a model for higher education reform across the nation, citing improvements in the undergraduate curriculum, online teaching, student success and graduation rates, and creating of a new type of medical school.
These five honors show that some of the brightest minds around are right here in Austin:
- Three faculty members earned the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.
- Cockrell School of Engineering professor John B. Goodenough picked up the highest honor in the engineering profession.
- In May, the Tower shined orange to honor chemistry and chemical engineering professor C. Grant Willson for winning the Japan Prize, an international award similar to the Nobel Prize.
- Vincent L. Snyder, associate professor in the School of Architecture, won the 2014-2015 Rome Prize, one of the most highly regarded awards in the arts and humanities.
- English professor Wayne Rebhorn and Bill Minutaglio of the School of Journalism received PEN Literary Awards.
Students have a great opportunity to help shape the world while also making memories that will last a lifetime just ask the Longhorn Band members who performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and played alongside Trombone Shorty at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
The accomplishments of these students during the year prove that UT Austin is preparing leaders:
- Architecture student Jessica Glennie was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious graduate scholarships in the world.
- Biomedical engineering senior Ashvin Bashyam was one of 15 students in the nation selected for the prestigious Hertz Foundation Fellowship. He will pursue a Ph.D. in medical engineering and medical physics at MIT.
- John Russell Beaumont, a Plan II Honors and architecture graduate, won a Marshall Scholarship, one of the most coveted study abroad scholarships available.
- Two student teams in the McCombs School of Business took home national championships in business competitions.
- Moody College of Communication graduate Annie Silverstein, MFA '13, won first prize in the Cannes Film Festival's Cinéfoundation Selection program.
Graduates of The University of Texas at Austin had big years, leaving marks in pro sports, gracing the silver screen and even exploring space.
- The Texas Exes honored an impressive group of alumni this year with the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Awards. The recipients were legendary athlete Earl Campbell, Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, former regent H. Scott Caven Jr., astronaut Karen Nyberg, historic preservationist Dealey Decherd Herndon and education champion John H. Massey.
- Admiral William McRaven, B.J. '77, who oversaw the raid that claimed Osama Bin Laden's life, will be the next chancellor of the University of Texas System. Before being selected to lead the System, McRaven gave an epic commencement address to the Class of 2014 in May.
- Legendary Longhorns quarterback Vince Young, who led the team to the 2005 national title, returned to the Forty Acres to work for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement to help the university better serve first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds. [Read why Vince Young says he returned to the university.]
- Former Longhorns men's basketball star Kevin Durant earned the title of Most Valuable Player in the NBA and delivered a memorable tribute to his mom in accepting the award.
- Students flocked to the polls this fall to vote, and UT Austin alumni on ballots across the state faired well. A Longhorn will lead the Lone Star State, with Greg Abbott, BBA '81, winning the governorship.
If The University of Texas at Austin survived on tuition alone, it would be forced to shut its doors in November of each school year. Private donations not only help keep the university running but also preserve the university's mission for future generations.
These five donations embody the generous spirits of alumni who help the university reach its potential:
- In August, the Livestrong Foundation gave a $50 million gift to the Dell Medical School, establishing the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.
- To start the year, the Mulva Family Foundation made a $60 million multiyear pledge supporting the McCombs School of Business and the Cockrell School of Engineering.
- The late T.W. "Tom" Whaley, Ph.D. '68, who quietly served his country in the CIA during the Cold War, surprised university leaders this year with a $35 million bequest to create engineering scholarships at the Cockrell School of Engineering.
- Numerous corporations, foundations and individuals came together to contribute $10 million to establish the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations, in honor of the founder of the Dallas-based advertising agency The Richards Group.
- Alumni Judy and Charles Tate of Houston gifted approximately 120 modern and contemporary Latin American artworks to the Blanton Museum of Art in addition to making a major contribution toward the endowment supporting the museum's Latin American curatorship.
What Starts Here...
UT Austin celebrated its 131st birthday this year, and its leadership in higher education has never been more pronounced. These five things we're thankful for highlight the university's far-reaching influence:
- Last spring, the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act during the LBJ Presidential Library's Civil Rights Summit. To commemorate the anniversary of one of LBJ's crowning achievements, four U.S. presidents, civil rights leaders, scholars, activists and media came to the Forty Acres to discuss the future of civil rights advocacy in the United States.
- The university is making progress toward its goal of higher graduation rates, with last year's freshman class returning to campus in larger numbers, earning better grades and taking and passing more credit hours than any other class on record. The Class of 2017, now in its sophomore year, was the first group of students to benefit from campus-wide initiatives designed to increase four-year graduation rates.
- Building on our 44-year history of Mexican American Studies, the university established the first-ever academic department in the U.S. to take a comprehensive look at the lives, cultures and histories of Mexican and Latino populations.
- Construction of the new Dell Medical School began in April. In October, the university announced that Dell Medical School and the Seton Healthcare Family laid the legal foundation for the new medical school, a new teaching hospital, a health care district in downtown Austin and greater access to health services in Travis County.
- The Department of Energy as well as industry and research partners awarded a $58 million grant to a university research team to study what could potentially be the next great energy source. The grant, one of the largest ever awarded to the university, will enable researchers to analyze deposits of frozen methane under the Gulf of Mexico that hold enormous potential to increase the world's energy supply.
Longhorns asserted dominance on the field (and court) this year, giving fans a lot of reasons to be thankful.
- The next chapter of Texas football is here, and the team's 6-5 record makes the Longhorns eligible for a bowl-game matchup (even Matthew McConaughey is excited about the team's direction). Head Coach Charlie Strong's arrival came with a set of core values that's garnered national attention, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell turning to Strong for advice.
- Every year, Texas Athletics celebrates its tradition of excellence at the Men's and Women's Halls of Honor induction ceremonies. This year, a class of former letter winners, coaches and administrators were honored for contributions to the Longhorns family.
- Ushering in the next generation, Texas Athletics recently signed a number of student athletes to several teams. The Texas family is far-reaching, and the support of hundreds of thousands of fans continues to make the Longhorns strong. (Across the country, fans bought more Longhorns gear than merchandise for any other university, making UT Austin the No. 1 merchandise royalties collector among U.S. universities.)
- Texas teams keep competing for (and winning) championships, lighting the tower burnt orange throughout the past year. Among other championship contenders and winners, volleyball heads into the postseason ranked No. 3 nationally after winning a fourth consecutive Big 12 title, and the baseball team traveled to Omaha for an appearance in the College World Series.
- Our student athletes compete not only on the fields and courts but also in the classroom. This spring, UT Austin's student athletes set a Texas Athletics record with a cumulative GPA of 3.1, and rowing senior Jessica Glennie, the architecture student who was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, is the ninth Texas student athlete to receive the prestigious award.
From the entire University of Texas at Austin family, we'd like to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving!