50 Things I’m Grateful for This Thanksgiving

Expressing gratitude, apparently, can be good for your mental health (although on this point contrasting opinions exist). My mental health could certainly use a boost, so here’s a Thanksgiving 2023 list of some things I’m grateful for.

“Gratitude,” in the generic form exemplified below, seems to make little sense in behavioral terms… except insofar as it’s fun and instructive to examine the amazing flexibility of behavior and the amazing array of experiences, many rather unplanned, that can shape it.  Whatever you’re doing as you read this occurs at the conjunction of a zillion behavioral moments that made you who you are. Be grateful for those moments. And be sure you actively express that, so you can feel as bouncy as I do now after completing this list.

If enough people send me a (professionally related) thing or two for which they’re grateful, I’ll feature those in a post-Thanksgiving follow-up post. Email to tscritc@ilstu.edu, and use GRATITUDE for the subject line.

  1. I am grateful that natural selection on Earth created behavior, without which I’d have nothing to study and nothing to study it with.
  2. I am especially grateful that natural section on Earth created operant processes, although I doubt that behavior could evolve anywhere in the universe without the capacity to change based on cause-effect environmental relations; for instance, if aliens and zombies are real, it’s a sure bet they have operant behavior or something very much like it.
  3. I am grateful for verbal behavior, without which I would have no post today.
  4. I am grateful for the speaker-focused analysis of verbal behavior in Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (though see #5, #6, and #29).
  5. I am grateful for research on rule governance and for Relational Frame Theory for forcing us to think more broadly about the functions of verbal behavior; and for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for illuminating its therapeutic potential.
  6. I am grateful for research from a variety of disciplines on verbal processes, which you really need to consult if you want a halfway-complete understanding the listener side of verbal behavior.
  7. I am grateful for Skinner’s analysis of personal responsibility, which helps me to feel less guilty when I screw up. Which is often.
  8. I am grateful that a lot of behavior analysts seem to forget Skinner’s analysis of personal responsibility, because it feels good when they say nice things to me, even if I am not technically responsible for any useful work that appears under my name.
  9. I am grateful for Skinner’s “Case history in scientific method,” which taught me that screwing up a lot can be the basis for a whole career.
  10. I am grateful that my parents, though not good at a lot in the parenting domain, encouraged me to recognize and chase natural reinforcers (which entails a lot of screwing up but also a lot of bumping into really cool stuff). One contemporary expression of this, perhaps unfortunately for you, is me creating the present post, so if it doesn’t interest you, blame my parents, unless you subscribe to Skinner’s account of personal responsibility, in which case it’s nobody’s fault.
  11. I am grateful for the college girlfriend I followed into a course with the nebulous-sounding name “Behavior Modification,” and where I found the only thing that ever made sense to me (in the classroom, at least) during five and a half years of undergraduate studies.
  12. I am grateful for Rob Hawkins, the teacher of that course, who saw something in a spectacularly unfocused undergraduate English major and helped him believe he could make a go of it in behavior analysis.
  13. I am grateful for the Chestnut Pub in Morgantown, WV, where, at 2 AM about a week before I graduated with my entirely unmarketable B.A. in English, I bumped into a table of graduate students from a “Behavior Analysis in Human Resources” graduate program who encouraged me, despite a complete lack of proper academic credentials, to apply to the program. I am grateful for program faculty Ernie Vargas, Julie Vargas, and Larry Fraley, for taking a chance on me at a time when no self-respecting program really should have.
  14. I am grateful for Pam Meadowcroft of the Pressley Ridge Youth Development Extension, who gave me exceptional experience working in a foster-family based program based on the Teaching-Family Model. When I proved to be not very good at this, I’m grateful that she nudged me into doing other things rather than firing me.
  15. I am grateful for a large handful of more-senior behavior analysts who, as total strangers who owed me nothing, extended small acts of kindness when I was just entering the field and thus gave me courage to keep trying to figure it out. A few examples from among many (I wish I had more space): Murray Sidman, Al Poling, Phil Hineline, Mike Cataldo, Nancy Ator, Bud Mace, Tony Nevin, Fran McSweeney, and Linda Hayes.
  16. I am grateful to have fallen into behavior analysis when there was an energetic sub-group (Brent Rushall, Daryl Seidentop, Richard O’Brien, Thom McKenzie, Bill Heward, and others) exploring applications to sport and exercise, which was one of my big reinforcers at the time.
  17. I am grateful for the very slow elevators at the 1981 ABA Convention, which gave me a chance to start chatting with McKenzie and to eventually work for him in a summer weight loss and fitness camp for adolescent boys. I am also grateful that Thom didn’t fire me when I proved to be not very good at this.
  18. I am grateful for each and every person who is very good at applied work. You’re bettering the world, one behavior-hour at a time, and I’m happy to suspend my belief in Skinner’s account of personal responsibility to praise you.
  19. I am grateful for the early-generation applied behavior analysts who showed us that behavior, under the right contingencies, can surmount “impossible” hurdles.
  20. I am grateful to Direct Instruction for showing how to remove hurdles to learning rather than power through them (i.e., stimulus shaping and fading).
  21. I am grateful to applied behavior analysts who’ve showed us that it’s better to prevent behavior problems than try to remediate them after they’ve taken root (e.g., see #37).
  22. I am grateful for a generation of researchers who immediately preceded me within the vibrant Southeastern Association for Behavior Analysis. This group, whose ringleaders included Mike Perone, Carol Pilgrim, Kate Saunders, Dean Williams, Marc Branch, and Mark Galizio, had so much fun with behavior analysis that I was challenged to make it fun for myself as well.
  23. I am grateful that behavior analysis offers so many ways to have fun, and for the short attention span that has allowed me to sample many of them.
  24. I am grateful for small, single-track conferences, like that of the Southeastern Association for Behavior Analysis — these provide the absolute best environment for learning and networking.
  25. I am grateful for generations of students who made teaching rewarding, but especially those who, by becoming better than me in various ways, helped to fuel my own continuing growth in the discipline. A few examples (I wish I had more space): Scott Lane, Cheryl Ecott, Julie Clow, Kim Epting, Dan Fienup, Derek Reed, Mike Magoon.
  26. I am grateful to Bill Buskist for teaching me that teaching is 20% stimulus control (content) and 80% motivating operations, with the latter including fully explaining the problems that content is supposed to solve, plus sequencing content so that students are always right on the cusp of emitting behavior just like that of the next reading assignment.
  27. I am grateful for the Behavior Analysis Ph.D. program in the Psychology Department at West Virginia University for letting me be part of a cohort of students and faculty from which I learned far more than books and journals could teach.
  28. I am grateful for Andy Lattal’s Lab Manager, Suzanne Gleeson, who resisted the urge to flay me when I shorted out the entire Psychology Building on my first day in the lab. Also to all of the student colleagues who still talked to me after I almost killed their pigeons by forgetting to feed them over Christmas break.
  29. I am grateful for Ernie and Julie Vargas’s incredible two-semester course on Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, which I know for a fact, based on several failed attempts, that I’d have never worked through or learned as much from on my own.
  30. I am grateful for Mike Perone’s single-subject design course and Andy Lattal’s behavior theory and philosophy course and indeed every course that someone put thoughtfully together so I’d have a chance to learn about behavior analysis.
  31. I am grateful that all of those courses, collectively, showed me that, contrary to youthful assumptions, I did not actually know everything.
  32. I am grateful for low-interest student loans that funded my student-era hobby of attending one non-behavior-analysis conference a year, just to see what the rest of the scholarly world was like. Also for that extremely sexy road bike that I shouldn’t have bought with loan money but I did and I’m sorry and please don’t say anything to the federal student loan folks about this.
  33. I am grateful for every behavior analyst who ever got up in my grill and challenged me when I was being strident and inflexible. Which was a LOT of times.
  34. I am grateful for colleagues with the behavioral capacity to leave me happier, more energized, a little bit smarter, more curious, and more inclined to be nice to those who bump into me. I am grateful to Ronnie Detrich for teaching me to  surround myself with such people, regardless of their backgrounds and interests.
  35. I am grateful for Relational Frame Theory for coming along to shake up a discipline that was evolving into a Skinner cult.
  36. I am grateful for the people who do great work with RFT without letting it become a cult.
  37. I am grateful for Hart and Risley, whose superhuman efforts (Meaningful Differences) created a seminal illustration of behavioral-developmental trajectories and defined possibly the most impactful of all behavioral interventions: talking to your kid.
  38. I am grateful for those who codified single-case experimental design, thereby making it possible to scientifically approach the concept that behavior is a product of individual nervous systems.
  39. I am grateful to the people who are currently shaking up single-case methodology (e.g., exploring its connections to evidence-based practice and neuroscience and lots of other disciplines) and to those currently demonstrating how behavior analysis can productively employ other methods. Because a discipline that stagnates methodologically dies.
  40. I am grateful for creative thinkers who have refused to let reinforcement theory persist in its 1950s form — people who have risked heretic status to propose new ways of looking at the behavior-consequence relation (some of my favorite cases in point, from among many: Tim Shahan, Michael Davidson, Bill Timberlake, Billy Baum, JJ McDowell, Peter Killeen). If you think a Skinnerian explanation of behavior strengthening is how the universe really works, better get to work catching up on the last several decades of theory development.
  41. I am grateful for people who don’t do basic research but have worked hard to explore the translational implications of basic research; by doing so they refused to let applied behavior analysis persist in its 1970s form.
  42. I am grateful to scores of practitioners who, by inviting me into stimulating conversations about behavior and about our discipline, showed me that, contrary to sky-is-falling prognostications of 20 years ago, the monetizing of ABA didn’t automatically suspend all brain function in those involved.
  43. I am grateful for those driving the exploration of how behavior analysis fits into various social movements like diversity, equity, and inclusion and culturally responsive therapy, first because this is the right thing to do to make ABA more effective and second because this forces important discussions about social systems which have received too little study in behavior analysis.
  44. I am grateful for the people who’ve pioneered ways to run effective, efficient systems involving many behavior analysts, many clients, multiple layers of supervision, and a lot of useful behavior change. Often overlooked in discussions about how behavior analysis has changed since the certification boom is that somebody had to figure out how to convert ABA from a boutique operation to something that can operate on a massive scale.
  45. Speaking of scales, I am grateful for people exploring how to scale up behavioral interventions, because if interventions can’t be layered onto existing cultural practice and societal systems they probably can’t help enough people.
  46. I am grateful that the ABAI Bogs allowed me to share some observations with you in 2024.
  47. I’m grateful for people like Casey Clay, Corina Jimenez-Gomez, Dennis Dixon, Shahla Alai-Rosales, and Odessa Luna, who made my posts better by lending their expertise and perspectives.
  48. I am grateful for the ABAI Blog team that is working hard to create probing, rollicking, adventurous conversations about our discipline. If someone wrote something you found useful, write to tell them! It matters, believe me.
  49. I am grateful for Blog Coordinator Andy Lattal for bringing the blog team together, and for ABAI Deputy Director for Boards and Committees Jenna Mrljak, who supports our efforts and keeps the wheels turning for our blog medium, Word Press.
  50. I am grateful for each and every blog reader who has taken the time to write with comments, questions, new information, praise, or criticism. If you have a bee in your bonnet but haven’t done this yet, maybe you should: tscritc@ilstu.edu. Then I can be grateful for you.