Open Letter from a Graduate

To those who have helped me succeed,

Graduation is a great time for reflection on the past four (or even five) years of a college student’s life. During my time in college, I’ve encountered so many helpful people and programs that made this experience easier and more enlightening. Whether you’re reading this as a fellow upcoming grad or a fresh-faced freshman (I worked on that pun for a while), let this open letter be a guide for expressing gratitude to all the ways you’ve received assistance and support along the way.

Your professors are more than just teachers. Sure, they may have guided you through writing classes or helped you to pass chemistry exams, but they’re also resources for life. My professors helped to instill in me the importance of hard work and pushing through difficult lessons. They worked patiently to make sure I understood more than just the lesson plan. How can you show them gratitude for all they’ve done? One great way is to put effort and time into course evaluations. These evaluations are often extremely important for professors, especially those new to the job. Make sure to highlight specific ways the professor helped you or stood out.

Another important group that deserves to be thanked is your family. Perhaps they provided financial support for you, in the form of tuition or room and board. But even if you paid for your own education out of pocket or through scholarships, it’s a safe bet that they were still rooting for you the whole way. Focusing on your studies is, of course, an excellent way to demonstrate your gratitude, but making sure to simply tell them the many ways they encouraged you will go a long way.

College is also a time for establishing and growing the connections you’ll have for a lifetime. Your high school friends are always going to be important, but the folks you met in the dorms, libraries, class, and off-campus living will often be people you know well into adulthood. A study performed by Purdue University found that friends made during college are often long-term, even when a distance is between them. Because people tend to move after college for jobs or relationships, I suggest you take time to let them know how important they are before graduation is over. Throw a party, cook them dinner, or just make plans to hang out more often. Trust me – the best times of my college career were spent with hanging out with buddies, even if weren’t doing much at all.

We often think of colleges as being populated by students and professors. However, there are plenty of working-class folks that help to brighten your college experience. There are custodial staff, maintenance workers, dorm employees, and food court workers that would heartily appreciate your thanks. These are people who may earn the minimum wage or not receive benefits, and who still work hard to keep the spaces around you comfortable.  A card to workers in your dorm or building employees could be a great way to not only say thanks but to establish a new friendship.

Finally, you owe yourself a great deal of gratitude. Whether you’re planning on continuing your studies at a graduate level or heading off into the brave unknown of the working world, you made it through a four-year degree! All those late-night cram sessions, hours spent in the computer lab, or sprints across campus to get to class on time have finally paid off. It can feel bewildering or overwhelming, but if you’re ever struggling to make it through college, it’s always helpful to sit down and make a list of all the things you have to be grateful for in college. Congratulations, wherever you are in your college career. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to try to not cry as I walk across the stage at graduation. Dang, too late!

All the best,

Alpha Kappa Psi

Gratitude vs Gratification

When something makes us feel good, we want more of it. From the late-night snack of a pint of ice cream to the planned week of vacation, we want to feel good. And we usually want it right away! Two of the main ways that we have of feeling good right away are the feelings of gratitude and gratification.

They can both be addicting, but the difference between them is like “the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” as Mark Twain once said. One makes an earthshaking difference and the other creates a fairy twinkle that we all chase from time to time.

That may be a little exaggerated. Let’s look at some hard definitions and see how gratitude vs. gratification actually plays out in the world that we live in today.

The Definitions

Simply put, gratitude is the good feeling we get or the expressions of appreciation that we make when something good happens to us. Most of the time, when we feel thankful, we feel good. It’s not that complicated.

Webster’s dictionary states that it is a “state of being thankful.” Think of the joy that a small child experiences when they get something that they have been wanting for a long time, the look on a loved one’s face when a crisis is averted, or the quiet peace radiating from a completely contented couple in love. In most cases, Psychology Today states that gratitude wants to be shared–you want other people to be just as happy as you are

On the other side of the coin, the state of being gratified is “a source of satisfaction or pleasure.” Remember the feeling as you get a second helping of your favorite dessert? How about the look on a teenager’s face when they level up in their video game of choice? Gratification wants more and more, particularly when you are able to have the feeling extended immediately. This leads to instant gratification, which, as stated by Positive Psychology, can become a real problem.

It’s important to realize that gratification in and of itself is not bad

Practically Speaking

What does this look like in the workplace and at home? Examples abound of both of these happiness generators in action. You may have noticed that someone really likes to fill the printer at work or deeply enjoys watching the coffee brew. These are examples of instant gratification.

At home, similar patterns can play out. Coming home to a clean home that your significant other has just gotten ready for you can spark a large amount of gratitude. When shared between both the cleaner and the one who came home, the evening could be full of happiness and peace.

On the other hand, instant gratification can take the form of a fun night out, an extra dessert, a spontaneous trip and much more. Other forms of gratification include buying a new dress or suit, splurging on something that you’ve been saving up for and so on and so forth.

Think of the days that nothing seems to get done. Sometimes, gratification (in the form of social media, longer lunches, and corridor chatter) gets in the way of getting things done. How about the coworker who loves to bring in tasty homemade goodies to share? They want to please you and themselves, but it is best? Sometimes, it can be trying if you’re on a diet and they insist that you take some of their goodies.

It’s a balancing act that can feel equivalent to walking (and falling) off a tightrope. How can you keep everything together?

The Balance

At the end of the day, gratitude and gratification should not be at war with each other. Rather, they should be balanced to suit you and your individual lifestyle. Sometimes that will lean one way and sometimes it will lean the other way.

The important thing to remember is that gratitude is internal and gratification is external. You need both in order to have the richest experience available to you. After all, both gratitude and gratification are about maximizing your happiness and the happiness of those about you. This is a very good thing indeed.

Questions and Tools for Analytical and Critical Thinking

In the past, developing critical thinking was why people learned subjects like Latin. A heavy emphasis on structured thought patterns, like memorizing poetry, learning a musical instrument, or creative writing of essays, forms your mind to enable critical thinking. The mind stretches around such structures, allowing you to imagine and consider things outside of the rules and forms that you are learning.

Analytical thinking, on the other hand, describes patterns of thought that draw conclusions from our study. Studying the scientific method is one way in which analytical thinking has traditionally been taught. Other examples include planting a garden, caring for or training animals, and (oddly enough) playing video games. These practical applications of lessons learned from critical thinking reflect our ability to translate abstract knowledge into everyday life.

While the path to learning both analytical and critical thinking skills should start in school and at home, some people may not have had those advantages. Perhaps they didn’t learn well in a traditional environment, weren’t that interested, or didn’t have the opportunity to develop as they would have liked to at some point.

No matter what the past holds, each of us can work on our thinking skills in the present. Here are some questions, practices, and tools that you can use today to develop your thinking skills.

Apply Your Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills

Throughout our daily lives as working professionals, we encounter situations that require decision-making skills. Some are quite simple, such as whether to buy spinach or romaine at the grocery store or how to organize your day planner before a busy week. However, there are many more situations that call for a deeper and more active consideration of factors, information, people, and results. When it comes to these important decisions, it’s a wise idea to utilize both critical and analytical thinking. We know from previous blogs that we define analytical thinking as a process of breaking down all pertinent information into smaller chunks and using logic and linear thinking to make a choice. Critical thinking, on the other hand, goes further by including consideration of more abstract ideas like bias, opinion, and outside information to draw a more informed conclusion.

Both approaches can be effective, and sometimes even play off of one another. So, how can you decide whether starting with analytical or critical thinking will work best for a particular decision? Below are a few scenarios that demonstrate how either mindset can assist in your day-to-day life, using our very own Alpha Kappa Psi as a foundation for these theoretical situations.

Analytical and Critical Thinking Explained

From games in the app stores that hone your thinking skills to professionals agreeing about the frequent need for critical thinking in the workplace, most people think that the upswing in analytical and critical thinking is a good thing that can even be fun.

What do these terms actually mean? How do you develop these skills? And how do they apply in everyday life?

Let’s start with definitions and work our way up to the application of these thought processes from the office to the home.

The Definitions

Critical thinking is the art of thinking well and improving the art of thinking. This is the kind of thinking that drives people to the top of Everest, around the world, and creates such things as Wikipedia. Today, it is often associated with thinking about hard problems or questions that really don’t have answers.

Analytical thinking, on the other hand, is a specific subset of thinking that is concerned with finding the solutions. Examples include the development of gear suited for the extreme conditions of Everest, faster and better traveling methods, and the actual answers that Wikipedia collects. A great example of this is the scientific method.

Because it is a subset of skills, you may find analytical thinking grouped under the term critical thinking. This is similar to comparing consumer math to math. However, for the purposes of this breakdown, the focus will be on critical thinking as it relates to theory and analytical thinking as it relates to practicality.

Critical and Analytical Thinking At Work

The office is one of the best places to practice critical and analytical thinking, with a few caveats. No one really appreciates a smarty-pants and most people have had the (dis) pleasure of dealing with someone like that. Think twice and speak once.

With that out of the way, critical thinking works best in situations and roles where you are planning for the long term. Examples include forecasting where a project should go using what you know now, looking for a better vendor or tool to implement in the office, or considering a department or career change.

Analytical thinking fills in the steps one takes to bring the theory to life. Creating a budget for a new project, testing a vendor or implementing a new tool, and researching where you would want to work next are all ways that analytical thinking would apply to critical considerations.

Critical and Analytical Thinking With Friends

With friends, it can be more difficult to think at all, depending on the friendship in question. How long you have known each other and what you do together can influence your thought process about them. This can get in the way of any sort of thinking, let alone strenuous thinking!

However, analytical and critical thinking can still be done. Examples, where critical thinking can help in a friendship (or just on a night out), include planning the agenda together, making sure that you choose something that most of you will enjoy, and coming up with new places and experiences to try.

Analytical thinking kicks in (again) on the execution side of the equation, like calling to make reservations, remembering everyone’s dietary restrictions, or coordinating the carpool. Sometimes in a friend group, one more analytical thinker will come to the front to finish things up. Give your friend a hand when they need one because ideas come all the time, but experiences do not.

Critical and Analytical Thinking With Family

Depending on the type of family, siblings, fur babies, parents, and a thousand other factors, a family can be one of the toughest situations in which to use critical and analytical thinking.

The major upside of using critical thinking with members of your family is that it can help you consider the why behind old and new issues, situations, and unexpected new challenges that can crop up. Critical thinking enables you to look at a situation from different perspectives to make the best conclusion. Family provides us with a wide range of experience to draw from and can help us consider options we might not naturally. Where the analysis enters is in choosing to apply this insight. Thinking analytically can also help us stay focused on our goals with our family, instead of falling back into old emotional habits.

Critical and analytical thinking skills aren’t the easiest to acquire. In some cases, they can be some of the hardest skills to deploy when you want to. But just like any other skill, you must know what it is and how to practice it. You’ve got this.