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.

What Is Gratitude?

Of all the characteristics we value here at Alpha Kappa Psi, perhaps the most rewarding one is gratitude. The concept of gratitude extends much further than simply saying “Thank you.” Rather, it is a state of constant gratefulness for the good things in one’s life, both big and small. Not only is it a virtuous trait to let people know your appreciation when they have helped you in some way, but staying alert and aware of all positives in your life can be beneficial for the self. Robert Emmons, a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, said that gratitude is both an affirmation of goodness and the acknowledgment that the sources of goodness are external, coming from sources outside ourselves. What does this mean for our daily lives, especially when it’s easy to get bogged down by stresses and nagging deadlines? Let’s take a look at how gratitude can be expressed in the workplace, with friends, and with family.

Gratitude in the Workplace

In a workplace setting, demonstrating gratitude can go a long way towards motivation and a positive environment. A study performed by Glassdoor found that four in five employees said they were motivated to work harder when a boss showed them appreciation for their work. While this kind of positive reinforcement often comes from management, any employee can foster this kind of gracious culture by taking time to make others’ efforts feel appreciated. A survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation revealed that people are least likely to express gratitude in the workplaceFor example, your coworker may have worked diligently to put together an updated list of company vendors. While they may have done this after being asked by a manager, their efforts mean less work for you and your peers when you need to find the contact info for one of these third-party companies. Let others around you know that their work is noticed and appreciated. It might also be helpful to take time out of your day to take note of the things you’re grateful for at work, as a study performed by Robert Emmons found that keeping a gratitude journal improves mental health and well-being.

Gratitude with Friends

Expressing gratitude to your close companions is not only a kind thing to do, but also beneficial for your relationship. A study by UC Berkley found that gratitude can make people feel more invested in friendships, meaning that when you show gratitude it can encourage those helpful gestures by your friends and even jump start good deeds of your own. Our friends are usually the people we turn to when we’re looking for help. In fact, they can sometimes be reassuring to us even without us expressing that need for assistance. How often has a funny text from a friend or a relaxing group lunch been just the thing you needed to get through a particularly hectic work week? Even if you’re not in need of anything, your pals validate your feelings and add joy to your daily life. Letting your friends know your gratitude for the things they do can make them feel more valued. You can do it by letting them know how they help you throughout the day; you can also show it by returning the favor. If a friend is often giving you rides to concerts, maybe offer to pay for the tickets. If they took you out for dinner, you could cook for them. Whatever you choose, being genuine with your emotions and making an effort is an excellent way to keep developing your friendships.

Gratitude with Family

When we consider the link between gratitude and family, it’s hard to not think of Thanksgiving. This holiday often brings together family from all over to eat, catch up, and – of course – say thanks to one another. While this yearly event is certainly convenient, it doesn’t need to be the only time you express gratitude to your family. Instead, consider trying to schedule monthly or even weekly conversations with those in your extended family. Even if you don’t have time for a full-blown catch-up session, you can still reach out to them with emails, video chats, or even letters. Not only is this a great way to make relatives feel important, but it can also be vitally important for your older family members. A study from the University of California, San Francisco found that 40 percent of seniors regularly experience loneliness. Another study by the Association for Psychological Science said that loneliness among the elderly can increase the chance of mortality by a whopping 26 percent. Letting these folks know that you’re grateful for them, whether it’s for a specific act, or just in general, can go a long way in making them feel and live better. Gratitude can be expressed in many ways, but in the end it’s truly about remaining aware of all the goodness that comes from those around you. That goodness might come in the form a helpful document from a coworker, a night out with a friend or a caring chat with a loved family member. Whatever it may be, showing your gratitude is a great way to build relationships and improve your own sense of well-being.

 

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.