05/14/2014 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's My Birthday, And I'm Really Grateful I Made It to 23

Today, I turn 23 years old.

Depending on who you are, that sentence might make you feel young, aged, nostalgic, happy, sad or simply indifferent.

Instead of telling you about how my friends ordered me a drink called the "Tidal Wave" last night and a bartender promptly threw a full glass of water in my face (then yelled "tidal wave!" in a really friendly voice), I'm going to talk about something I'm considering more and more important every day: gratitude.

On this birthday, and for the lifetime that follows it, I'm starting a quest to teach myself to experience real gratitude, every single day. I'm inviting you to join me.


But gratitude is a tricky thing; to discuss it means to talk about the things you have, or the things you're happy about. To do that means being able to walk the fine line between boasting and exaggeration and humility and sincerity. Even though I'm wary of this line, I can only share the gratitude of my circumstance, so that's what I'm going to do.

More than anything, on this birthday I'm grateful for my freedom. I don't mean the "USA!" kind of freedom, although that's pretty nice, too. I mean the kind of freedom I ponder when I pass a prison yard on my way to work every day, the gratitude I feel that I -- unlike 2.4 million other Americans -- am not currently imprisoned. I'm grateful that I had the family, the friends, the teachers and the luck to be raised in a place where police didn't discriminate against me and terrorists didn't kidnap me on the way to school.

I'm grateful for my health. I see my friend Brielle, a 23-year-old who has endured the loss of her father and now the aggressive return of her cancer, and I wonder if I could ever have her strength. I don't consider it enough, but I should be smiling every day that the skin cancer on my nose is treatable, that I am free of the degenerative diseases that affect more than 45 million people worldwide.

I'm grateful I made it to 23. In a country where roughly 62,000 people under the age of 25 will die this year, any amount of gratitude for that will not suffice. With gun violence, heroin addiction and depression running rampant, I am grateful that I survived to 23 and lived long enough to be grateful for living.

I am grateful for diversity, for people who come in different shapes and colors, for minds I can't understand and for the encouragement of education. I'm grateful for warm days and cool nights, for a moon that keeps the ocean in check and a vast expanse of space that hasn't destroyed our little rock.

Thích Nhất Hạnh said to "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Reading that quote makes me grateful for words, for people who care about our planet, and for the contagious nature of gratitude.

I am grateful for a mother who wished me happy birthday today, a dad who bought me a drink last night, a woman who encourages me to be myself and a family that enjoys being imperfect. I'm grateful for friendly co-workers, for Jon Stewart, for sushi and breakfast sandwiches (not together) and editors and anyone else who has read this far. I'm even grateful for the bartender who threw a glass of water on me last night and the friends that made it happen.

More than all of these things, I'd be grateful if you shared these words, because gratitude is a feeling best enjoyed together.