Practicing Active Gratitude, Gratefulness, and Thankfulness.

By Casey Schmalacker, Operations Manager


When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was the time for eating a lot of food and being with family. I loved the fire burning, running through all the colorful leaves, playing with cousins, and preparing for the Christmas season. There was not a lot of active thanks giving. I didn’t realize at the time, but being exposed to all of these things I loved pushed me into a state of appreciating what I had. The fable of Pilgrim’s being thankful to the Native Americans helps emphasize this for developing youth, but we should be making a much more focused effort on being actively grateful.


Self-Advocacy and Help-Seeking


Being grateful actively implies that we are focusing on the good things that have happened to us, and because of whom or what. Actively understanding how the good things happen enables people to replicate that success. When we are grateful for friends who make us feel better after a bad day, we are more likely to lean on those same friends. Thanks given to teachers, professors, colleagues, and managers not only encourages those people to help us more, but also encourages you to lean on them for support when you need it in the future. This has meaningful impact on our own self-advocacy and help-seeking behaviors because it helps our brains concretely connect individuals to their impacts on our lives. Most importantly, when someone is actively thankful or grateful, their agency (control over their own futures) increases because they are identifying potential resources to solve future problems.


Optimism and Motivation


Active states of gratitude also have direct impacts on outlook and motivation. Research conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough shows that participants who focused on gratitude were more optimistic than their counterparts who focused on irritations. This positive mindset is essential in developing a growth mindset, which, in turn, supports goal setting and all the executive functions necessary to adapt and adjust our strategies while attempting to achieve those goals. Without optimism, it is hard to believe that you could achieve your goals, in turn making it hard to motivate yourself to do anything differently. Not only does giving thanks provide benefits to yourself, but also thanking employees and colleagues can actually increase their own efficiency and efficacy. A study conducted at Wharton found that individuals who were thanked for their efforts had a 50% higher work output than the control group. Giving thanks helps with our own growth, while also helping businesses be more productive.


This Thanksgiving Season, Let us set some Gratitude Goals


Hopefully we have your buy in to start being actively grateful, but the executive function coach in me thought I’d share some Gratitude Goals you can try out for the month of November (and hopefully beyond!). Since good goals are concrete and actionable, we want them to be as specific as possible:


  1. Thank teachers/professors/managers/close colleagues in person, via email, or by writing a hand written note. We highly recommend the in person or handwritten note method because it is personalized, but so much of work and school is virtual that this may not be possible (you can set up a zoom call or FaceTime though!).

  2. Share at least one reason why you are grateful for your family members and/or friends with them directly. Again, try to do this in person or via a personalized note. My grandmother’s birthday is in November, and for her 75th birthday, I wrote out 75 things I was grateful to her for. She cited this for the rest of her life as one of her happiest moments, but it also helped me better understand all the things I really appreciated about her.

  3. Create a Gratitude Log where you write down one thing you are grateful for every day. If you can get through November doing this, keep it going! Don’t let perfection be your enemy, and missing a day is okay, but strive for it to keep you accountable.

We wish you the best through this reflective month, and we hope that everyone enjoys the time they have to appreciate and be actively grateful for things we sometimes take for granted. If you need any help, we are here. Finally, the New Frontiers family would like to extend our gratitude to each and every one of you. We appreciate you all.