Many people may think of gratitude as a “passive” gesture — you wait for something good, then feel grateful, said David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, in Boston. DeSteno studies the effects that thankfulness can have on people’s behavior.

But a growing body of research is suggesting the opposite is true, according to DeSteno: By choosing to feel gratitude, people can make positive changes in their lives.

“Gratitude isn’t passive reflection. It’s active,” DeSteno said. “And it’s not about the past. It’s there to help direct our behavior in the future.”